Can an Aspirin a Day Prevent Cancer?

We’ve heard for years that aspirin has health benefits for your heart. Aspirin has been proven to reduce the risk of a heart attack or a stroke, if you are at high risk. Now, it appears that long-term (five years or longer) aspirin use also can result in a decreased risk of cancer, according to a major study published in The Lancet, a respected medical journal.

Researchers had been studying the anti-cancer properties of aspirin for more than 20 years when they discovered its effects on cancer cells by accident during clinical trials in Australia.  Today there is evidence that suggests aspirin may reduce the risk of several types of cancer, with particularly strong evidence for colorectal cancer.

“I do not recommend everyone take an aspirin a day without their doctor’s approval,” said Grace Wang, M.D., a medical oncologist affiliated with Baptist Health. “I suggest that to reduce your risk of being diagnosed with cancer, it is best for you to eat a healthy diet, maintain a normal weight, exercise, limit your alcohol consumption and – most of all – quit smoking.”

The study reported in The Lancet, conducted by Professor Peter Rothwell, a researcher who has studied the benefits of aspirin on cancer incidence extensively, evaluated more than 25,000 individual patients from eight randomized trials on long-term aspirin use. After five years of follow-up, a benefit was seen in decreased deaths from multiple common cancer types, including brain, colorectal, esophageal, lung, pancreatic, prostate, breast and stomach. The benefit appeared to increase with the duration of aspirin treatment. 

In another study, researchers from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Kansas City and the University of Kansas Medical Center showed that not only did aspirin significantly slow the growth of breast cancer cells and shrink tumors, it also stopped tumor cells from spreading to new sites. These are very encouraging findings.

Today, aspirin use for cancer is rising and researchers are hopeful that the effects of aspirin use will continue to prove to be effective as a tool to prevent and manage cancer.

“Taking aspirin is not without risk,” Dr. Wang warns. “Daily aspirin can increase your risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, so it is best to be under a physician’s supervision.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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