Can aspirin prevent cancer? And red wine and coffee? First the aspirin. The simple answer is yes. Aspirin can prevent cancer. Aspirin reduces the risk that you, or someone you care about, will get cancer. As of last October, aspirin is recommended for prevention of both cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer. A new study published this month found supports that view and found another benefit of aspirin. Aspirin reduces risk of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. Aspirin also reduces overall risk of cancer. Can aspirin prevent cancer of all types? Unfortunately, aspirin did not reduce risk of lung cancer or breast or prostate cancer.
How much aspirin do I need to reduce risk of cancer?
Lower cancer rates were seen in people who regularly took 1/2 to 1 and 1/2 regular sized aspirin tablets a week. That’s not that much, but aspirin needed to have been taken for about six years before the effect was noticeable. For people over 50, the researchers estimated that taking regular low-dose aspirin could prevent 10s of thousands of cancers a year. The study used data from 135,965 regular aspirin users. A lot of people and a lot of data allowed the researchers to make some pretty strong conclusions.
How does taking aspirin prevent cancer
It is thought that aspirin prevents cancer by reducing inflammation. While inflammation can help speed recovery from infections it can also damage our cells.
Colorectal cancer sounds nasty. What else can I do to reduce risk?
Risk for cancer goes up with age. Not much you can do about that. And some people may be at increased risk because of genetics. African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews are more likely to get it. But there are some things you can control. Risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
- heavy drinking (just when we were starting to get into bourbon!)
- a diet high in red meat, especially if you like to cook it at high temperature (sorry Paleo friends, but that is what most of the research says).
- processed meats (hot dogs, spam, etc., but those are gross. No loss there.)
- infection with human papilloma virus (HPV)
Some things that can reduce risk of colorectal and gastrointestinal cancers are:
- mediterranean diet
- regular exercise
- healthy weight
- maybe coffee
- possibly red wine
Does this mean I can take aspirin, drink wine and coffee and not get a colonoscopy?
No. You should still get screened for colorectal cancer if you are over 50. Talk to your physician. Sometimes the right lighting and music can help with any discomfort you might feel. A glass of red wine might just complete the experience.
Conclusions and Relevance
Long-term aspirin use was associated with a modest, reduced risk for overall cancer. Half to one and a half aspirin tablets daily for six years showed an especially reduced risk of gastrointestinal tumors. Regular aspirin use may prevent colorectal cancers and complement the benefits of screening. Avoiding red meat and high cooking temperatures may help. Drinking coffee and red wine might also reduce risk of colorectal cancer.
Kontou N, Psaltopoulou T, Soupos N, Polychronopoulos E, Xinopoulos D, Linos A, Panagiotakos D. 2012. Alcohol consumption and colorectal cancer in a Mediterranean population: a case-control study. Dis Colon Rectum. 55(6): 703-10.
Nakamura T, Ishikawa H, Mutoh M, Wakabayashi K, Kawano A, Sakai T, Matsuura N. 2015. Coffee prevents proximal colorectal adenomas in Japanese men: a prospective cohort study. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2015 Aug 19. [Epub ahead of print]