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It’s Official: Aspirin Prevents Cancer

Most doctors I know swallow one of those low-dose healthy heart aspirins every day. I count myself among them (here’s the 81-mg version I take, but many brands are available, Costco’s among them). When research studies first started appearing well over 20 years ago showing a daily smidgen of aspirin could prevent both heart attack and stroke, the general attitude among most doctors was a profound: “Well, it couldn’t hurt…”

Actually, aspirin can hurt. For some people with sensitive stomachs, even a tiny dose is enough to trigger pain or bleeding. And, of course, some people are simply allergic to the stuff.

So as good as the numbers were regarding heart disease and stroke prevention, some doctors were a little gun-shy about broadly recommending low-dose preventive aspirin to all their patients. The take-an-aspirin tune shifted to a minor key, and physician guidance became a more hesitant “Go ahead and take it if you want…it might be helpful.”

But then a couple years ago some startling news appeared. Doctors analyzed the health records of regular aspirin users and found the rate of developing colon cancer in this group was much lower than in those who were not on an aspirin regimen. So the aspirin pendulum guardedly began to swing back, especially for those in families with a high risk for colon cancer.

And now, a real aspirin breakthrough

A study from Oxford University published recently in the medical journal Lancet analyzed 25,570 medical records, looking at 670 cancer deaths from the records to determine who took daily aspirin and who didn’t. It turns out that the people who took a small dose of daily aspirin cut their risk of developing any of several often-fatal cancers by about a third.

Understand the benefit occurred only after they’d been taking the aspirin for quite a while, but still the benefit was real. In other words, if you start now (today, perhaps), by the time you reach the risky years for developing cancer–over 60–you’ll have yourself well covered.

Here’s a list showing the number of years you need to be taking low-dose aspirin to receive its protective benefits for specific cancers:

  • Five years of aspirin use: esophagus, pancreas, brain, lung
  • 10 years: stomach, colon, rectum
  • 15 years: prostate

All this begs the question, “Do we know how aspirin works to protect us from cancer?” The answer is no. But there are some very dangerous cancers on this list, folks, so I hope you’re getting my subtle drift. I just want you to…

Be well,

David Edelberg, MD

Leave a Comment

  1. Pat Gallagher says:

    (1) Does this work for women also?

  2. Leah Jozwiak says:

    (2) My husband has been on aspirin for 4-5 years. He occasionally gets pretty bad nosebleeds and small cuts (like shaving) take a while to clot. He is 57. Should we just consider this a nusense and continue the aspirin?
    Thanks!! Leah

  3. Sandy Siegel Miller says:

    (3)I’ve read that the 81mg of aspirin is most effective if taken at night. Is that true?

  4. Martha Campbell says:

    (4) I assume this is not OK for those of us with lymphocytic Colitis?

  5. Dr E says:

    (1) Men and women were benefitted equally

    (2) Just make sure it’s the 81 mg size but do keep on it

  6. beth says:

    (5) Thanks for the article. What should people whose stomachs are irritated by aspirin do? is it better to take it with food? is buffered or enteric coated aspirin really any different? thanks!

  7. B.Gail Mendenhall says:

    I look forward to your newsletters, and value your opinion(s).
    I have recently started taking low-dose aspirin. Even though I believe in minimal consumption of drugs, I am all about prevention,so I am hopeful that this will be a benefit for me.

    Thank you for sharing your ideas!

  8. Dr E says:

    (5) Taking it with food is best; a buffered version is better for delicate stomachs; (4) can’t be used with lymphocytic colitis; (3) day or night probably doesn’t make too much difference but same time every day likely gives better results than changing the times you take it

  9. georgina says:

    I read that taking aspirin has benefits for men, but not necessarily women. Can you address this issue? I thought I read that it increased the risk of stroke in women of a certain age. Please advise.

    Thank you

  10. nancy joyce says:

    So what if one has GERD???

  11. jim says:

    I’m allergic and have gastric issues so this is not for me.
    I have seen White Willow for sale at health food stores. Same benefits? Worth trying in my case? Thanks.

  12. Eileen Dudich says:

    Can you take aspirin with Savella?

  13. Lindy says:

    What about the connection between aspiring and macular degeneration?

  14. Dr. E says:

    1. The cancer preventing effect is equal regarding gender
    2. Unless taking 81 mg of aspirin gives you GERD symptoms, you should have no trouble especially if you take it in the middle of a meal
    3. If you are allergic to aspirin, you shouldn’t take white willow either. In this study, no other substances were evaluated for their cancer preventing benefits
    4. Daily aspirin in the dose recommended has beeen shown helpful to prevent macular degenration. Opthalmologists also recommend daily antioxidants for this as well
    5. There are no interactions between aspirin and Savella; they can be used together

  15. Cobi says:

    Thank you for your very informative newsletters.
    At what age is it a good idea to start taking a daily baby aspirin (i.e. where the benefits probably out way the risks of bleeding): teens, 20’s, or 30’s etc.

  16. Dr. E says:

    Starting in the 20’s or 30’s is fine.

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