Two birds with one stone heart health meds may also prevent colorectal cancer

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Anyone taking baby aspirin to prevent future heart attacks may also be protected against colon cancer, according to a new study published in today’s issue of The Lancet. European researchers looked at the 20-year results of over 14,000 patients taking low-dose (75-81 milligrams) versus regular (300-325 milligram) aspirin in four clinical trials originally intended to investigate the medicine’s ability to prevent stroke. They found that after six years, low-dose (baby) aspirin on a daily basis reduced the risk of colorectal cancer — the second-leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths — by 24 percent, and colon cancer death rates by 35 percent. Research author and University of Oxford professor Peter Rothwell believes that aspirin may specifically prevent cancer from developing in the upper (right side) portion of the colon, where screens often fail to detect cancer or pre-cancerous polyps.

However, daily aspirin is not recommended for everyone. While patients with a history of colon polyps or a family history of colon cancer are urged to consider the preventive therapy, those suffering from gastrointestinal bleeding complications — such as ulcers — should not take aspirin. “No one with a bleeding tendency of any type should take aspirin — and anyone considering this approach should discuss it first with their doctors,” advises ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross.

“This hypothesis has been around for more than a few years,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. Aspirin is thought to prevent colorectal cancer by inhibiting production of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2), says Dr. Ross.

In a related article, a meta-analysis of 2.5 million patients in 22 different studies conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan found that those using the cholesterol-lowering class of drugs known as statins were at a 12 percent reduced risk of developing colorectal cancer — a statistically significant decrease. Although the studies analyzed by the researchers involved multiple types of statin drugs, Jewel Samadder, M.D., MSc., says a number of observational studies “have suggested that long-term use of statins is associated with reduced risk of several cancers, including breast, prostate, lung, pancreas and liver. Our findings suggest that randomized controlled trials designed to test the hypothesis that statins reduce the risk of colorectal cancer are warranted."

Dr. Ross agrees. “I think we have had enough hypothesis-generating observational and retrospective studies: It’s now time for somebody to fund a large-scale prospective randomized double-blind clinical trial of statin drugs versus placebo use and risk of colorectal cancer.”