It seems there are two kinds of people who comprise the over-50 world: those who suffer heart disease, and those who fear cancer. Cardiovascular disease kills more than 30 percent of Americans. Cancer is the culprit for 23 percent of us. No other disease even comes close in its mortality -- diabetes kills some 3 percent of Americans; Alzheimer's about 3 percent, accidents less than 5 percent.
Scientists have known for a long time that low doses of aspirin can prevent heart disease. Now research suggests that aspirin may retard cancer as well.
CBS News just reported on the findings, saying that "aspirin reduces risk of death by about 30% for lung cancer, 40% for colorectal cancer and 60% for esophageal cancer." The report was based on an article in the British journal Lancet which reviewed a number of studies originally done not for cancer, but for heart disease. The journal was careful to caution that "proof in man is lacking."
Nevertheless, it makes you wonder: Should we take a daily aspirin to stave off cancer as well as heart disease? The analysis in Lancet concluded that the reduction in cancer was apparent only after five years, and the benefits increased with the duration of treatment. That suggests you should start taking a daily aspirin when you're 30 or 40, and not wait until you're 50 or 60.
But CBS correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton noted that the American Cancer Society says no, not everyone should start gobbling aspirin tablets, concluding: "It would be premature to recommend people start taking aspirin specifically to prevent cancer." There are risks in taking aspirin, especially for people prone to bleeding or to liver or stomach problems.
"Balancing the risks and benefits of aspirin is really important and probably something that needs to be done on an individual basis," advised Ed Yong, of Cancer Research UK. He said anyone considering taking aspirin on a regular basis should talk to their doctor first. Also, no one should think that aspirin is a panacea for cancer. Prevention strategies like not smoking and keeping a healthy body weight are crucial. For more info. see an interview with Prof. Janusz Janowski of Cancer Research UK.
You know what would be really interesting to find out? Dr. Ashton, Ed Yong, Professor Janowski. Have they started swallowing aspirin with their morning cereal?