04/11/2012 04:58 pm ET Updated Jun 11, 2012

Take Two Aspirin and Don't Call Me in the Morning!

What if I told you a new drug had been discovered that could dramatically reduce cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer, three of the leading killers in the U.S.?

You'd probably think it will take a decade to get FDA approval. Or it must have some ugly side effects.

Or that your insurance will never cover it and it must cost a fortune. Or, yeah sure, but do we know what it does to you after 10 or 20 years?

Well, it's already in your medicine chest.

A series of reports in the British medical journal The Lancet has scrutinized the data from many studies involving thousands of patients and demonstrated a very real anticancer effect from aspirin. The investigators examined aspirin trials that had been conducted for vascular disease and noticed that the aspirin groups had far fewer cancer deaths than the placebo groups. Previous studies using similar data mining techniques had shown that after 5 years of taking 75 mg (a very small dose) daily, the risk of dying from common cancers decreases by 10 to 60 percent, depending on the cancer. This includes prostate, lung, colorectal, esophageal and other cancers. This therapeutic effect was not seen in populations that had taken aspirin every other day.

One analysis in the series published this month on aspirin demonstrated more rapid protective effects in patients who already had cancer. The investigators suggest that this occurs by reducing metastatic disease -- in other words, by limiting spread of the cancer.

This makes theoretical sense. Researchers have known for sometime that platelets, the cells in your blood responsible for clot formation, play a pivotal role in the spread of cancer from its primary site in the body. Aspirin targets platelets. In addition to an anti-cancer effect, aspirin has an anti-clotting effect that explains its protective action in cardiovascular disease and stroke. It also explains aspirin's one serious side effect: bleeding.

Because of the increased risk of bleeding, people should consult with a doctor before launching their own trial of aspirin therapy. You should also keep in mind that certain OTC products can increase bleeding risk, such as other anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, fish oil, angelica, clove garlic, ginger, gingko, Panax ginseng, red clover. tumeric and others.

While more trials will be necessary before aspirin can be recommended as a primary prevention technique for the general population, this is very promising news.

For more by Paul Spector, M.D., click here.

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