Aspirin has long been credited with helping reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and now, evidence (National Cancer Institute) suggests that taking a low-dose aspirin every day for five years or more may cut the risk of colon cancer by up to 35 percent among people who are at high risk.
Dr. Justin Maykel, chief of Colon and Rectal Surgery at UMass Memorial Medical Center, defines high risk as “people who have a personal or family history of colon cancer, or someone whose colonoscopy screening test finds certain types of polyps.”
It’s not clear why or how aspirin provides such a benefit. Some researchers suggest that perhaps its anti-inflammatory action prevents cancer cells from dividing, and others hypothesize that aspirin reduces platelets in the blood, which may limit cancer cells’ ability to spread. Aspirin may also block the activity of a certain enzyme related to colon cancer.
Dr. Maykel says more research is needed to clarify the possible connection between aspirin and cancer prevention, and doctors are not yet ready to prescribe aspirin therapy for everyone. But, he notes, “Anything that gets people thinking about colon cancer is a good thing, in my book. I want patients to consider their own risks and how to lower them, and that starts with asking questions and getting screened.”
Dr. Maykel urges patients to have screening colonoscopy:
- At age 50 or older
- At age 45 if high risk, or at the age at which a first-degree relative was diagnosed
While current screening guidelines focus on people 50 or older, rates of colon cancer are increasing among younger people—in their 40s, 30s, even in 20s. Any changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or abdominal pain should trigger a call to the doctor right away.
In addition to a healthy, high-fiber diet, quitting smoking, and getting moderate exercise, the most important tool in preventing colon cancer is screening colonoscopy, which can prevent some 80 to 90 percent of cases. Screening can find polyps and give doctors a chance to remove them before they can develop into cancer.
Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. Call 508-334-8195 for information.