Aspirin and colon cancer: how useful studies keep misleading headlines

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NBC s headline An aspirin every other day cuts colon cancer risk for women may be catchy, but it does little to accurately describe the study to which it is referring. The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and was based on data from the Women s Healthy study, which followed more than 30,000 women.

Of these women, half were randomized to take aspirin every other day while the other half were given placebo pills. The women were given questionnaires ten years later, asking whether they had taken their pills regularly and about current health conditions.

The study authors concluded that there was no difference between the groups regarding breast and lung cancer, but that there was a difference when it came to colorectal cancer. In the group taking aspirin, 202 women developed colorectal cancer compared to 249 in the placebo group.

Doesn t seem like a big difference? We didn t think so either.

Dr. Bloom agrees. He says, although a study using 30,000 participants is usually worth paying attention to, the fact that the magnitude of the reduction was low, the impact on life span was non-existent, and no reduction was seen in any other type of cancer leaves me unimpressed.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross added, These data do, however, add to the prior literature suggesting a significant albeit small reduction in risk of CRC among those who take aspirin, as well as some other nonsteroidal agents. Still, not strong enough to support a general recommendation to encourage healthy people of average risk to take these potentially risky meds.