Aspirin is a miracle drug. New use: cancer prevention

There are few drugs as remarkable as aspirin.  As I read medical literature, it seems increasingly likely that once-daily aspirin reduces the incidence of cancer (especially colon cancer), heart disease, and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease.

Why might this occur?  Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory agent.  Inflammation is a destructive process that can lead to damage at both the tissue level and the cellular level.  It seems plausible that some of the disease processes named above are partially caused by inflammation, and preventing this inflammation might also help prevent these disease states.  Aspirin also inhibits blood clots. If clots form inside blood vessels (especially in the heart), this can cause a myocardial infarction (heart attack), which is why aspirin should be taken daily by most people with known coronary artery disease.

In a study published on Aug 27 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, patients with prostate cancer were evaluated according to whether they took aspirin.  Over a period of approximately 5 years, 3% of patients taking aspirin died from prostate cancer versus 8% dying of prostate cancer in the group that did not take aspirin.

To add balance to the discussion, some studies have shown a less impressive benefit.  The Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort (conducted by the American Cancer Society) published in the Journal of the National cancer Institute followed 100,000 people without cancer at baseline and evaluated them according to aspirin use.  Aspirin users had an 8% lower risk of cancer-related death, still noteworthy, but much less than the 30% reduction seen in other earlier analyses.  The benefit of aspirin did seem to improve over time, and it was notably greater in non-smokers.  All this is merely to say that the medical community is still in the process of determining the actual benefit.

Along with aspirin, other drugs that I think of as truly world-changing include penicillin and statins (anti-cholesterol agents such as Lipitor, which is now available as generic atorvastatin).

I don’t yet take aspirin on a daily basis, but I am considering starting (any drug has toxicities and side effects).  The long term health benefits are interesting, and perhaps even impressive.  If I do start taking aspirin, I’d stop my dose when I periodically go skiing or take other active vacations . . . times when the anti-clotting effects would be undesirable.

Oh – aspirin is also great for headaches.

sources: Journal of Clinical Oncology: August 27, 2012, doi: 10.1200/JCO.2011.41.0308, Journal of the National cancer Institute (2012) doi: 10.1093/jnci/djs318

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