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Posted at 8:41 AM ET, 12/10/2010

Is that right? Aspirin reduces cancer risk?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget
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You may have read earlier this week about a British study regarding aspirin and cancer.

What you gathered from that research probably depends on which news account you read.


Here's a sampling of headlines I just gathered via a Google search of "aspirin cancer."

Aspirin a day dramatically cuts cancer risk, UK study shows
(NewsCore) - Taking a daily aspirin can dramatically cut the risk of dying from cancer, according to a landmark study out Tuesday.

Aspirin may cut cancer deaths, but caution urged - Yahoo! News
Dec 7, 2010 ... A new report from British scientists suggests that long-term, low-dose aspirin use may modestly reduce the risk of dying of certain cancers,

Daily Aspirin Linked to Steep Drop in Cancer Risk - Yahoo! News
MONDAY, Dec. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Long-term use of a daily low-dose aspirin ...

Baby aspirin linked to reduced cancer deaths - latimes.com
Dec 7, 2010 ... A daily dose may reduce mortality for a variety of common cancers, a British team reports. The benefits can persist over decades.

Aspirin Helps Reduce Cancer Deaths, Study Finds - NYTimes.com
Dec 6, 2010 ... A study comes with a caution against starting an aspirin regimen without a doctor's advice.

Hmmm. Did aspirin reduce the risk of getting cancer, or the likelihood of dying of cancer?

Was the effect dramatic? Steep? Or modest?

And should we all start a daily aspirin regimen ourselves?

The study, published online Dec. 6 in the British medical journal the Lancet, reviewed records for more than 25,000 people in eight clinical trials during which participants had taken aspirin -- or a placebo -- to treat or prevent cardiovascular disease.

The analysis revealed that for some cancers, taking a modest dose -- 75 milligrams, or roughly the equivalent of a U.S. baby aspirin, daily -- was associated with reduced likelihood of later dying from that cancer. The effect was stronger for some cancers (the 20-year esophageal cancer death risk was 60 percent lower for those taking aspirin than those on placebo; that number was 40 percent for colorectal cancer, 35 percent for gastrointestinal cancer and 30 percent for lung cancer) than for others (10 percent for prostate cancer).

The reductions in cancer-death risk increased the longer participants continued to take aspirin.

Too few women were included in the data set to determine whether those associations held equally for both genders, but it's likely that whatever the mechanism by which aspirin may alter cancer-death risk may be, it would apply equally to men and women. But the dearth of females meant that there weren't enough cases of breast and gynecological cancers to reveal whether the risk of death from either was mediated by aspirin use.

Taking aspirin does increase the risk of internal bleeding, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract and brain. But the study notes that the reduced cancer-death risk likely outweighs that relatively lower risk. Still, the authors conclude, more research is needed before it's officially recommended that people start taking aspirin solely to reduce their risk of dying from cancer. However, it's likely that people who take aspirin to improve their cardiovascular health may reap the added benefit of lower cancer-death risk.

This is definitely a talk-to-your-doctor situation. I plan to take this study to my primary care doc and have her help me decide whether a daily dose of baby aspirin makes sense for me. I'll let you know what she says.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | December 10, 2010; 8:41 AM ET
Categories:  Cancer, Cardiovascular Health, Health News, Is That Right?, Prevention  
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