In 2016, a 32-year long study performed on more than 130,000 US health professionals found a link between aspirin use and cancer risk. The study claims that regular, long-term use of aspirin lowers the risk of developing cancer, particularly colorectal cancer.
The researchers in the study took data from two previous large cohort studies in which the participants performed self-evaluations regarding their aspirin use. In the study, compared to the non-aspirin group, the aspirin group had a 3% lower risk of developing cancer and a 19% lower risk of developing colorectal cancer, a form of gastrointestinal (GI) cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. Using the data from the study, the researchers were able to deduce that regular aspirin use could prevent roughly 29,800 gastrointestinal cancers every year. They also found that the effect of regular aspirin use to reduce GI cancer risk was “dose-dependent” meaning that there appeared to be a delay of several years between the start of aspirin usage and the development of a lower risk for colorectal cancer. In addition to aspirin’s role in preventing colorectal cancer, there is significant evidence that it also lowers the risk of esophagus and stomach cancer, both of which are not the most prevalent type of cancer, but are usually very hard to treat. There is some evidence also in favor of breast and prostate cancer, but further studies need to be performed in order to better uncover their link with Aspirin usage.
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“It’s a very exciting time for the field of cancer prevention. There does seem to be an effective and low-cost option for cancer prevention that could have widespread implications for many individuals,” said Dr. Andrew Chan, the lead author for the 2016 study, in a news interview with PBS. But, “at the same time,” he stressed, “I would caution people from believing aspirin is a cure-all and should be used without concern for other potentially effective ways of preventing cancer.” Aspirin, he said, should be used “as a complement to other cancer-prevention strategies.”
This brings to the front the bigger complication regarding aspirin use. Although, aspirin has been shown to reduce cancer risk, too much or too frequent aspirin use can potentially cause severe reactions like stomach bleeding in some people. For most people with cardiovascular conditions, it has been long established that the benefits of using aspirin outweigh the potential risks associated with its use. But similar associations yet remain to be established between cancer and aspirin use. Further research needs to be aimed at determining the correct dosage and frequency of aspirin use that will allow the “benefits” for the general population to surpass any possible risks.
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