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Aspirin for cancer?

Written by: Dr. W. Gifford-Jones, QMI Agency
Jan. 14, 2012

(Sean Kilpatrick/QMI Agency)


Drug found to decrease risk of breast, colon malignancies

Is there anything more to be said about the multiple benefits of Aspirin? After all, it's been a star for more than 100 years and stars are supposed to eventually burn out. But in spite of its longevity, researchers keep finding new ways that Aspirin fights common diseases. It truly is the miracle drug of the last century.

Dr. Alfred I. Neugut, professor of Medicine at Columbia University in New York City, reports in The Journal of the American Medical Association that Aspirin decreases the risk of breast cancer, in particular, breast malignancies that are stimulated by the female hormone, estrogen.

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For this study researchers conducted interviews with 1,442 women with breast cancer and an equal number of women without this disease. They discovered that women who used Aspirin at least once a week for six months or longer had a 20% lower risk of breast cancer compared to non-users. And those who took seven or more Aspirins a week had a 28% lower risk.

Another study conducted at Ohio State University tracked 81,000 postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79. The women were asked whether they took non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Aspirin. Once again the results were intriguing. Women who used NSAIDs regularly for five to nine years cut their risk of breast cancer by 21 per cent. Women who used them for 10 or more years lowered their risk by 28 per cent.

Aspirin helps to fight several other malignancies. In 1998 Australian epidemiologists reported that people who took Aspirin had a 40% less risk of developing colon cancer. Since that time 12 other studies have confirmed this finding, a major discovery since cancer of the large bowel has become one of the major killers of both sexes.

Esophageal cancer is not as common as breast or colon malignancy. But the number of cases of this malignancy is increasing as more people suffer from acid reflux (heartburn). Acid reflux results in chronic irritation of the lower end of the esophagus (food pipe) which predisposes to malignant changes. Nine studies indicate that the regular use of Aspirin decreases the risk of this cancer by 50%. There is also epidemiological evidence suggesting that Aspirin use can decrease the risk of pancreatic and ovarian cancers. A report from the Society of Gynecological Oncologists (cancer specialists) claims that women who take Aspirin three or more times a week for at least six months decreased their risk of ovarian cancer by 40%.

So how can Aspirin have such a positive effect against so many different cancers?

Researchers are not certain. But we know that some breast cancers are fueled by the female hormone, estrogen. It's believed that Aspirin helps to decrease the production of this hormone.

In addition, it's believed that Aspirin may help to curtail cancerous growth by blocking an enzyme called Cox-2 and prostaglandin, both of which are involved in triggering inflammation.

So how should these studies affect our thinking about the use of Aspirin? Since many of these cancers are hard to diagnose, early prevention by the use of Aspirin is another way to try to avoid such malignant growths.

It's also good to remember that in addition to decreasing the risk of cancer, Aspirin provides additional benefits. Many people are aware of how Aspirin reduces the risk of coronary attack. But what is shocking is the number of patients who should be taking Aspirin for this reason and are not doing so.

For instance, I often see diabetic patients who have not been prescribed Aspirin yet that are prime candidates for cardiovascular disease. A report from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta claims that virtually 98% of diabetics should be taking Aspirin, but only 20% are. It's a disastrous error when 50% of diabetes patients die of heart attack.

On rare occasions, Aspirin can cause stomach bleeding, so always ask your doctor about using it. But the benefits normally outweigh the risk when the 81-milligram enteric-coated Aspirin is used, a small dose for daily consumption.

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