Aspirin – Good for Your Heart, Fights Cancer Too?

The benefits of aspirin for preventing and mitigating heart attacks have been known for years. Many people take a low dose of aspirin daily, just in case. New research is pointing to a new benefit of daily aspirin: cancer prevention.

Researchers at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom conducted three separate studies on the effect, if any, of daily aspirin consumption on cancer deaths. The results were encouraging.

In one study, more than 17,000 people participated in the experiment. The portion of the group who took daily, low dose aspirin experienced 46% fewer cases of colon, prostate and lung cancers and 18% fewer cases of all other cancers.

In another trial, the group taking aspirin suffered only 324 cases of cancer compared to the control group's 421 cases.  Aspirin also seems to slow the spread of cancer once it takes hold. In a study of cancer patients, those who took aspirin were 15% less likely to die after three years and 37% less likely to die after five years, compared to similar cancer patients who did not take aspirin. Another study of cancer patients found a 50% lower chance of cancer spreading after 6 years compared to those not taking aspirin.

These studies did not identify the reason why aspirin reduces cancer risk, they just identified the correlation. Some doctors suspect that aspirin's effect on the platelets in the blood might have something to do with reducing cancer.

Aspirin is not without its problems.  Aspirin thins the blood, so it is dangerous for people subject to cerebral bleeding. It can also cause stomach upset and cause digestive system bleeding. There are specially-crafted versions of low dose aspirin that have an enteric coating to reduce stomach issues. The coating delays the digestion of the aspirin until it is farther down the digestive path, saving the stomach wall from exposure.

So, should you take an aspirin every day? Do check with your doctor, because aspirin can worsen internal bleeding. And be sure to take the "baby" aspirin or low dose (81mg) aspirin rather than the full strength version. For most of us, though, it just makes good sense.

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