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Aspirin May Prevent Colon Cancer - 2003-03-05

An aspirin a day may lower the risk of eventually developing colon cancer, by reducing the risk of colon polyps. That is the conclusion of two studies appearing this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

To find out how effective aspirin might be in preventing pre-cancerous polyps, researchers divided a group of cured colon cancer patients in half, giving aspirin to one half of the group and sugar pills to the other. All of the patients were routinely screened for the return of colon polyps.

After three years, patients taking aspirin developed 35 percent fewer pre-cancerous polyps than those not taking aspirin.

Previous studies looking at aspirin as a treatment for diseases such arthritis suggested it might prevent the development of colon cancer.

For that reason, study lead author Dr. Robert Sandler of the University of North Carolina says researchers felt more tailored studies were needed.

"Doctors are typically conservative. I don't think we ever think anything is definitive," he said. "But I think probably the fact these two studies both found that aspirin decreased the risk of polyps, combined with what we knew from before, that it's pretty clear that aspirin has a preventive activity."

Dr. Sandler is co-author of a second study that appears in this week's New England Journal that concludes aspirin might be beneficial in preventing colon polyps.

Investigators say taking an aspirin every day might be okay, after first talking it over with a doctor, since the drug has side effects including stomach ulcers. But they say the first line of defense against colon cancer is a visual screening test.