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Low-dose aspirin may lower risk of colon cancer

Susan Mills-Gray, Nutrition and Health Specialist, Cass County, University of Missouri Extension


Daily use of low-dose aspirin can lower the risk of developing colon cancer and the risk of dying from it, according to a new long-term study.


That’s potentially good news for people who already take aspirin to reduce their risk of heart attack or stroke. But it doesn’t mean otherwise healthy people should start popping baby aspirin just to try to prevent colon cancer, according to American Cancer Society experts.


Daily low doses (75 to 300 mg) of aspirin were just as effective as higher doses. Taking aspirin for five years or longer reduced risk more than taking aspirin for less time. Previous research has shown that daily high doses of aspirin can reduce the risk of colon cancer, notes Eric Jacobs, Ph.D., strategic director of epidemiology at the American Cancer Society.


“The new study now fills an information gap by demonstrating that the lower doses of aspirin typically taken for heart disease prevention are adequate to reduce risk not only of colorectal polyps, but also of colorectal cancer,” said Jacob. Nevertheless, the American Cancer Society does not recommend taking aspirin as a colon cancer prevention measure.


“Aspirin, even at low doses, substantially increases the risk of serious, occasionally fatal, gastrointestinal bleeding,” said Jacob.


Current evidence suggests that very low doses of aspirin, such as 81 mg, may increase risk of gastrointestinal bleeding as much, or nearly as much, as higher doses, such as 500 mg. Decisions about whether an individual should start taking aspirin should be made by comparing the benefits and risks, taking into account each individual’s medical history and risk factor.


Despite some of the benefits of aspirin, it is still very important to get screened for colorectal cancer so that colorectal polyps can be detected and removed before they ever turn into cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends regular colon cancer screening for men and women starting at age 50. People who are at a higher-than-average risk of the disease (such as those with a family history of colon cancer) may need to begin getting tested earlier or have more frequent tests.


Although experts aren’t ready to recommend aspirin therapy to prevent colon cancer for the general population, those who have had colon polyps or a strong family history of colon cancer may want to visit with a physician regarding this new research.


Sources: American Cancer Society; UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, December 2010


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Last Updated 03/05/2012