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Aspirin Has Anti-Cancer Action

Aspirin use can reduce the risk of cancer.

Ask people what disease scares them the most, and chances are cancer tops the list. Although some progress has been made, cancer is still a major killer.
There aren’t many things that people can do to reduce their risk. Quitting smoking is the most important, though not necessarily the easiest. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is also helpful. After that, however, doctors haven’t had much to offer.
Now the cheapest drug in the pharmacy appears to be gaining ground as a major cancer preventive. Aspirin has been around for more than 100 years and costs pennies a pill. It’s not just for headaches and heart disease any more.
Scientists have long suspected that aspirin might lower the risk of certain cancers. Epidemiological studies suggest that regular users of aspirin may be less likely to develop lung, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, breast or colon cancer. Now researchers are beginning to confirm these findings with well-designed experiments.
The New England Journal of Medicine (March 6, 2003) carried reports of two such investigations. In both studies, people at high risk of developing pre-cancerous colon polyps were given either placebo or aspirin. And in both studies, aspirin reduced the likelihood of the recurrence of polyps.
The dose and the strength of the effect were different between the two studies, however, so it is still impossible to give a simple answer to the question, how much aspirin should one take to prevent colon cancer?
The investigators stress that aspirin is not a “magic bullet.” Regular colonoscopies remain the best way to prevent colon cancer. But people at high risk of this common cancer may wish to discuss aspirin chemoprevention with their physicians.
Scientists have recently found that aspirin can cut the risk of other cancers as well. Epidemiological findings in the British Journal of Cancer (March 10, 2003) show that significantly fewer people who had taken aspirin regularly for at least five years came down with cancer of the mouth, esophagus or throat. They cut their risk by two-thirds.
Doctors stress that people should not start taking aspirin every day on their own. Although it is readily available over the counter, aspirin has some potential hazards. Those who are allergic to it must avoid aspirin completely for fear of a life-threatening reaction. And others may be at risk of digestive problems, particularly bleeding ulcers, which can be extremely serious.
Aspirin may also interact with many medications, such as the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin), the diuretic furosemide (Lasix) and the arthritis medicine methotrexate (Rheumatrex). Alcohol can also make the stomach more sensitive to the irritating effect of aspirin.
We have prepared a Guide to Key Aspirin Information with a discussion of some of the most common and dangerous aspirin interactions. If a new drug did half as much as aspirin, it would be considered a major breakthrough. It may be time to pay more attention to this sturdy old stand-by.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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