Aspirin has long been used to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Now, research suggests that a daily dose of aspirin can also reduce the risk of certain gastrointestinal cancers, including esophageal cancer. But choosing to add a daily aspirin to your routine isn’t as clear-cut as you might think to reduce your risk of esophageal cancer prognosis.
Benefits of daily aspirin
Aspirin (also known as acetylsalicylic acid) has been used for over 100 years as a pain reliever and fever reducer. Because aspirin thins the blood, it is also commonly used to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, especially in people who have suffered a previous heart attack or stroke.
In recent years, attention has turned to the potential for aspirin to prevent certain cancers. In fact, in an article titled “Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for cancer prevention: an international consensus statement”, in The Lancet Oncology suggested that more research was necessary; “Evidence clearly shows a chemopreventive effect for aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) on colorectal cancer and probably other cancer types; however, data on the risk-benefit profile for cancer prevention are insufficient and no definitive recommendations can be made.” Another researcher reported that aspirin may prevent Barrett’s esophagus.
Now, a recent study offers us a closer look at that risk-benefit profile for certain types of cancer.
About the study
The study, published in the Annals of Oncology, reviewed data from studies and clinical trials investigating the pros and cons of a low dose aspirin regimen and found that taking a low dose aspirin daily for 10 years could significantly reduce the risk of cancer, heart attack, and stroke. The researchers said evidence showed that people need to take a small daily dose of aspirin for five years or more and take this dose for up to 10 years when people are in their 50s up to age 65. Research shows that taking aspirin for the first three years showed no benefit. Death rates from cancer were decreased after five years of taking a daily aspirin.
The data specific to an esophageal cancer prognosis indicates that taking a low dose of daily aspirin for five years results in a 58% reduction in mortality from the disease.
The most important side effect of aspirin noted in the study was increased bleeding, and the authors noted that daily aspirin shouldn’t be recommended to people at highest risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, such as those with peptic ulcers, those over 70 years of age, those with high alcohol consumption, or those with H. pylori infection.
So is a daily dose of aspirin right for you?
You might think that taking aspirin to reducing your risk of cancer would be an easy decision. It’s inexpensive, readily available, and protects against potentially fatal illnesses. So, if you have an increased risk of developing cancer because you have Barrett’s esophagus why wouldn’t you take a low dose of aspirin every day? Because aspirin is a drug, and like other drugs, has side effects that can sometimes outweigh the potential benefit.
In addition to the risk of bleeding highlighted above, aspirin has long been recognized as potentially damaging to the GI tract. It is frequently connected with producing peptic ulcers, and may also cause GERD or intensify the severity of symptoms in people who have previously developed GERD. In fact, some studies show that people who use aspirin long-term were twice as likely to have GERD symptoms than those who don’t. As a result, physicians often recommend a daily PPI to people taking a daily dose of aspirin.
This brochure from the FDA provides additional information regarding the risks associated with daily aspirin. While it is specific to taking aspirin to prevent heart disease and stroke, it provides important information for anyone considering daily aspirin
The most important takeaway from the FDA? “No medication is completely safe.” A daily dose of aspirin isn’t for everyone, so talk to your doctor, who can help you assess your cancer risk and determine if a daily aspirin makes sense for you.