Wouldn’t it be great if a single, inexpensive drug could prolong the lives of those who suffer cancer or even better yet prevent cancer? Well, such a drug already exists. Aspirin which cost pennies per pill has been recently shown to work against colon cancer. Certain patients with colon cancer who were treated with aspirin live longer than others who did not take aspirin. And those patients at high risk of developing colon cancer reduced their risk of colon cancer simply by taking aspirin.
How aspirin works against colon cancer is not yet clear. Perhaps, it works via its antiinflammatory effects, as chronic inflammation is a known risk factor for cancer. Does aspirin prevent other cancers? To date the answer would be no, however a qualified no. More studies with other cancers need to be done before this question can be answered.
Aspirin has also been shown to be at least as effective as drugs hundreds of time more costly in preventing and treating coronary artery disease. Aspirin is given to every patient without contraindications who is suffering a heart attack and works very well.
Still, aspirin is not without its risks. It is a blood thinner and can cause bleeding from the gut or even the brain. These are not trivial side effects. If the benefit of taking aspirin is only minimal then it is certainly not worth the risk of taking aspirin daily. On the other hand, if the benefit is great then the risks would be worth it.
It turns out that not every colon cancer patient or every patient at high risk for colon cancer would benefit from daily aspirin. Those individuals with certain genetic markers will, according to a recent study, reduce their cancer risks. Others, who unfortunately are the majority of people will not. A test can determine who will benefit and who will not. Those-ie the majority of us-who have not been shown to benefit should not be taking aspirin.
Who else should not be taking aspirin? Anyone who has had a recent major surgery-especially brain surgery-, who has had a bleeding ulcer or other bleed of their gut, who is already on blood thinners or who has an allergy to aspirn. This is only a partial list. Before you start yourself on aspirin by all means talk with your doctor.
It may just turn out that an aspirin a day keeps the doctor away.