Aspirin and Cancer Prevention

By Temma Ehrenfeld  @temmaehrenfeld
January 25, 2017

Among low dose aspirin benefits, cancer prevention is becoming an area of research. Here's what you should know about aspirin and cancer.

Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that aspirin in low doses can help protect people against cancer, but not why. The answer, according to researchers in Oregon, may be because it interferes with blood platelets.

These blood cells promote a particular protein, called “c-MYC,” which rules the expression of many genes involved in cell growth. But studies have shown an overabundance of c-MYC when people develop various cancers. While in the blood, tumor cells may stimulate the platelets to activate more c-MYC.

“Early cancer cells live in what’s actually a pretty hostile environment, where the immune system regularly attacks and attempts to eliminate them,” said Craig Williams, co-author of the Oregon study. “Blood platelets can play a protective role for those early cancer cells and aid metastasis.”


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Aspirin, in suppressing platelets, seems to interrupt that role — potentially stopping cancers in an early stage. The good news is that aspirin has the same effect on platelets in a 81-mg baby aspirin dose as in the 325 mg we use to treat inflammation or pain — and the low dose is much safer for the stomach.

So — should you take a baby aspirin a day? A pill costs about 2 cents, and there are many possible benefits. As we age, low-grade inflammation — your immune system’s response to any threat or hurt — makes it harder for your heart to do its job. It’s not clear why age leads to more inflammation, but we know that inflammation contributes to the host of problems associated with aging, and aspirin brings it down.

We already know that aspirin helps prevent a second heart attack or stroke. Its benefits in cutting the chance of cancer will probably be modest and slow to set in, but may protect more than one part of the body, including the colon and prostate. Studies are underway, testing the effect of a daily low dose of aspirin on a number of other problems that come with age: broken bones, hearing loss, and mental decline.

The drawback: taking aspirin regularly increases your chances of a perforated ulcer or bleeding in the brain, which can be deadly. This household drug thins the blood, helping to prevent the blood clots in strokes. We don’t always want thinner blood, which is why you shouldn’t take aspirin for pain if you’re menstruating or have a wound.
It’s also important to know that enteric-coated (or buffered) aspirin doesn’t completely protect your stomach. However, the risk of bleeding is relatively small for people under the age of 59, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

That group recommends taking a baby aspirin to prevent heart disease and colorectal cancer under certain conditions: if you are in your fifties, have a 10 percent or greater risk of getting heart disease in the next decade, and don’t have any risk factors for bleeding. People in their sixties should have a talk with their doctor.TheTaskforce noted that you should be prepared to take aspirin for at least five years to generate protection against cancer, and the benefits may take 10 years to kick in in, so you’d best start in your fifties. The Food and Drug Administration has concluded that so far the evidence isn’t strong enough to justify the risk of daily aspirin for the large population of people at risk of heart disease.

Your doctor may recommend combining daily aspirin with a prescribed drug that protects the stomach, a proton pump inhibitor. Be sure to discuss any history of stomach problems or high blood pressure and other medications you may be taking, such as an over-the-counter inflammatory for arthritis. Combining medications changes the risk.
There’s another way to reduce your body’s inflammation that doesn’t carry the risk of stomach bleeding: exercise, ideally a half hour, five days a week. Your diet counts, too. As you’ve heard before, vegetables are your friends.


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March 30, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN