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Could Aspirin Prevent Barrett’s Esophagus?

Regular use of aspirin reduces the risk of Barrett's esophagus among people with acid reflux.

Q. I have Barrett’s esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition that can sometimes turn into cancer of the esophagus. Several years ago my gastroenterologist recommended that I take a low dose of aspirin to prevent the abnormal cells from morphing further into dangerous ones.

I don’t know whether he had anything besides intuition behind this idea, but I agreed and have followed his suggestion ever since. Do you know of any studies relating to aspirin and Barretts?

A. Your question is fascinating because it seems counterintuitive. Aspirin can be irritating to the digestive system, so how could it be helpful against the chronic inflammation of Barrett’s esophagus or even cancer?

Aspirin for Cancer Prevention

In reality, though, there is substantial evidence that aspirin can help prevent a number of common cancers, especially within the digestive tract. We have written about some of this research previously.

Your gastroenterologist was relying on science, not intuition. One study reported that regular use of aspirin or other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) reduces the risk of esophageal cancer (Gastroenterology, March, 2012).

A more recent analysis found that aspirin and NSAIDs decrease the risk of Barrett’s esophagus and may protect against cancer of the esophagus (Digestive Disease and Sciences, online Sept. 12, 2014).

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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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