We’ve long known the benefits of taking low-dose aspirin as a preventive measure against heart disease and stroke. New evidence now points to the low-cost medication preventing numerous cancers, including pancreatic and bowel cancers. According to the U.S. Services Preventive Task Force, 81 milligrams of this compound every day reduces the death rate of cancer by 30 percent, heart disease by 22 percent and stroke by 17 percent.
“The evidence supporting low-dose aspirin is strongest for colorectal cancer prevention,” says Dr. James Aw, Chief Medical Officer at Medcan. “For esophageal and stomach cancers it’s also a good preventive measure as long as there are no harmful side effects. It may lower risk of other cancers like prostate and breast but more studies are required.”
Side effects noted from taking low-dose aspirin include increased gastrointestinal bleeding risks. In many adults, however, the benefits of aspirin exceed the risks.
Preventing colorectal cancer
“Low-dose aspirin is advisable and recommended if patients don’t have a bleeding disorder,” says Jonathan Efron, MD, PhD, a colorectal surgeon at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore, who adds that if colon health is your primary concern, fibre supplementation and following guidelines for colorectal cancer screening are both important.
Dr. David Agus, a CBS News contributor, calls baby aspirin the real health-care reform. He co-authored a recent study that concluded that if older Americans with elevated risk of cardiovascular disease take low-dose aspirin every day, it would save 900,000 lives over the next 20 years and improve life expectancy by 0.3 percent (more than three months) – and billions of saved dollars in health-care costs.
Aspirin remains the safer option
A recent study found that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil or Motrin are an even stronger protective agent against colorectal cancers but the risks are higher (serious adverse events occurred in 15.2% of low-dose aspirin recipients, 18.7% of placebo recipients, and 22.1% of non-aspirin NSAID recipients).
The benefit is most pronounced for people ages 50 and older, when heart disease and cancer rates start to rise. Some of the cancer studies start at age 40, which is when some men and women are advised to start taking low-dose aspirin.
As always, treatment for each patient should be individualized and both patients and clinicians should discuss the various risks vs. benefits associated with any medication.
“A baby aspirin a day is probably good for you,” says Dr. Aw. “Just speak with your doctor before you start taking it daily.”