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Aspirin May Reduce Colon Cancer Risk, But At What Cost?

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By Amir Khan

Starting an aspirin regimen may to do more than just help your heart - it can also help reduce your risk of colon cancer, according to a study published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that women who took an aspirin every other day were at a 33 percent lower risk of developing colorectal cancer compared to those who did not take aspirin - but experts caution that the results may not be as great as they appear.

Researchers looked at 38,876 women over the age of 45 who were randomly given monthly packets of aspirin or a placebo for at least two years, but up to 10. The women then filled out a questionnaire about their health, and researchers found that those who took aspirin every other day were less likely to develop colorectal cancer.

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"Evidence has recently emerged that aspirin may provide prophylaxis for cancer -- primarily colorectal cancer," the researchers, led by Nancy R. Cook, ScD, an associate biostatistician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, wrote in the study. "Benefits increased with duration of use, and an earlier effect was seen in trials using a higher dose."

However, women on an aspirin regimen were at an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, researchers said, which makes it difficult to recommend women take an aspirin every other day. Alexandria Phan, MD, medical oncologist at Houston Methodist Cancer Center, said the risks of GI bleeding do not outweigh the benefits.

"[The study] further adds to the large body of evidence of aspirin reducing the incidence of colorectal cancer," Dr. Phan said. "The study also showed that those on aspirin also had a statistically significant higher risk of non-fatal gastrointestinal bleeding and peptic ulcers."

And while aspirin may be beneficial for preventing colorectal cancer, it's important to patients to speak with their doctor's before starting a regimen.

"It is important for doctors and their patients to have deliberate and personalized discussions of the potential risks and benefits when deciding to initiate aspirin to prevent colorectal cancer," Phan said. "In other words, aspirin is not the panacea for all women trying to reduce their risk for colorectal cancers."

The researchers called for further study into the effects of aspirin, and said that until that time, they would not recommend women take aspirin to reduce their risk for colorectal cancer.

"With more evidence for long term effects in carcinogenesis, recommendations might be reconsidered," the researchers wrote in the study. "Aspirin's adverse effects, however, cannot be forgotten."

"Aspirin May Reduce Colon Cancer Risk, But at What Cost?" originally appeared on Everyday Health.

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