We already knew that low- dose aspirin dramatically reduces the incidence of heart attacks and strokes. We also know that aspirin is the prototype anti-inflammatory. What about aspirin and cancer? Previous studies fueled the belief that aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs decreased the risk of breast and perhaps colon cancer. But there was also the concern that aspirin could cause bleeding unrelated to cancer.
In fact, the opposite is true. A new German study of close to 1,000 patients, just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that low-dose aspirin increases the sensitivity of stool testing for blood as a way of picking up advanced colon tumors. By causing these tumors to bleed, aspirin increases the likelihood that they will alert doctors for the need for a colonoscopy because of a positive stool test.
Meanwhile, in the UK, in multiple large trials involving 25,000 patients, a study in Lancet showed dramatic results. Patients taking aspirin for several years were 21% less likely to die of solid tumor cancers. The risk of death from colorectal cancer was 40% lower. The bottom line is that aspirin, though not without risks, appears to be helpful in both indirectly diagnosing and decreasing the risk of dying from cancer.
Aspirin, manufactured by Bayer since 1899, definitely has staying power.
Marc Siegel, MD, is an internist and professor of medicine at New York University and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear