Can Aspirin Prevent Cancer?


Aspirin has been widely used for decades, and the drug has a story to tell.

I've always thought of myself as a sort of amateur expert on aspirin since it has been my "drug of choice" for most of my life. As a long-time competitive runner, it was always aspirin that eased my aching muscles.

While traveling many years ago in Fiji, I contracted a very serious case of strep throat. Eventually I took a taxi across the island to a tiny clinic where I was administered a penicillin shot and given aspirin to chew in order to deaden the pain in my throat enough for me to swallow. It's been called a "miracle drug" because of its many uses, and new research is finding it to be promising in possibly treating and even eliminating some forms of cancer.

The ancient Egyptians used willow bark as a remedy for all sorts of aches and pains. They didn't understand that the thing that was actually reducing body temperature and inflammation was the salicylic acid.

Aspirin has been touted by researches to be not only a pain reliever, but also a heart attack preventer, leading to many of us take low-dose aspirin daily, but new discoveries suggest that it could be a cancer preventer, too.

Whenever I see words like "cancer preventer" in the same sentence as a drug of some kind, I quickly put my opinions on hold and begin to examine the study in question, its sponsors, its participants and its motives. I think this is always prudent where a life-threatening disease is concerned, and especially if it is our own.

And there is plenty of information available regarding aspirin from a variety of sources on the Internet.

Aspirin has been around so long that it's difficult to question its efficacy as a pain

reliever. Long ago, before there were studies of any kind available, people realized that after they ingested aspirin, they felt better.

The drug made headlines back in 2010 when a study in The Lancet reported that a daily aspirin appeared to lower the risk of cancer during a 20-year period. That's based on data from more than 25,000 patients and builds on earlier findings that aspirin may lower the risk of colorectal cancer.

The National Cancer Institute reported that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), recommended that for some people, aspirin can be used to help reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer.

Long-term aspirin use isn't without risks of its own, however. As an effective anti-clotting agent, (the very reason why it helps prevent heart attacks) aspirin may also increase the risk of internal bleeding, though the incidence is relatively rare.

I recently had double full knee replacement surgery, and one of the first drugs I was given after the operation was aspirin to prevent blood clots in my legs.

Even though aspirin seems to be both inoffensive and harmless, based in part on the fact that so many of us have been taking it for so long, it is still capable of causing rash, gastrointestinal ulcerations, abdominal pain, upset stomach, heartburn, drowsiness, headache, cramping, nausea, gastritis and bleeding, according to the makers of Bayer Aspirin.

In the meantime, researchers are continuing to investigate critical questions, including just how aspirin may reduce colorectal cancer risk and what other cancers, if any, regular use of this century-old drug may help to prevent. We are also awaiting the results of several ongoing clinical trials that are testing aspirin either to reduce the risk of cancer or as an adjuvant therapy to reduce the risk of an already treated cancer from returning.

So, as with any drug, the important thing here is to follow the research and use caution when changing or adding any new medications without consulting your own oncologist or other medical professional.

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