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…
David Edelberg, MD