No Easy Answers — According to the National Cancer Institute, there are no easy answers about whether aspirin lowers cancer risk
One of the most intriguing prospects in cancer prevention is a cheap and very familiar drug: aspirin. In fact, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is working on recommendations for the use of aspirin to reduce cancer risk.
Aspirin is already widely used. Tens of millions of people in the United States take it daily to reduce their risk of heart attack or stroke. And numerous studies over the last two decades have suggested that taking aspirin on a regular basis may substantially lower a person’s risk of developing or dying from cancer.
In 2011, for example, a meta-analysis of eight randomized clinical trials that compared the risk of cancer death among participants who took daily aspirin for 4 years or more and those who took no aspirin found that, overall, aspirin use lowered the risk of dying from cancer by approximately 20 percent.
The largest drop in risk was for gastrointestinal cancers, particularly colorectal cancer. The study also showed more modest risk reductions for several other common cancers, including lung and prostate.
The research findings on aspirin, however, are not clear cut. Not every study of aspirin and cancer has shown that it reduces the risk of developing or dying from cancer. And most of the research linking aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and a lower risk of developing or dying from cancer have had limitations; most have been either observational studies, which cannot establish causal effect, or analyses of clinical trials testing aspirin’s effect on other health measures, most often vascular outcomes. None of the trials included in the 2011 meta-analysis, for example, was designed specifically to assess whether aspirin reduces the rate of cancer or cancer deaths.
How Does Aspirin Work Against Cancer?
Researchers believe that aspirin may work, at least in part, by blocking the activity of COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, lynchpins in the body’s inflammatory response. Inflammation is a normal response to tissue injury or infection that helps the injured tissue to heal or to clear the infection. In chronic inflammation, the inflammatory process does not end when it should. Over time, chronic inflammation can cause changes, such as the formation of new blood vessels and DNA mutations, which can promote tumor development and growth.
Can Lifestyle Changes Prevent Chronic Inflammation?
You can’t see it or feel it, but inflammation may slowly be damaging your body.
Inflammation (swelling), which is part of the body’s own healing system, helps fight injury and infection. But it doesn’t just happen in response to injury and illness.
Inflammation can also occur when the immune system goes into action without an injury or infection to fight. Since there’s nothing to heal, the immune-system cells that normally protect us from infection and repair injury begin to destroy healthy arteries, organs and joints.
“When you don’t eat right, don’t get enough exercise and have too much stress, the body responds by triggering inflammation,” says David Leopold, MD, a physician at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in San Diego, California. “Over a long period of time, chronic low-grade inflammation can smolder in otherwise healthy tissues instead of helping you heal.”
You can control — and even reverse — inflammation through a healthy, anti-inflammatory lifestyle. People with a family history of problems like heart disease or colon cancer should talk to their physicians about lifestyle changes that support healing and prevent disease.
The key is to drink plenty of pure water every day, eat more veggies and low sugar fruit, exercise regularly and get some good sleep in every night. And of course, cut back or avoid foods and beverages that are laden with sugar and chemicals.In summary, the good news is that diet, exercise and lifestyle changes can be powerful tools against inflammation. This option would be a better choice because aspirin like all drugs, can have unwanted side effects. At the low doses used to protect the heart, aspirin has only a small effect on inflammation; its heart benefit comes primarily from its ability to reduce the risk of blood clots. No other NSAIDs are good for the heart. In fact, some NSAIDs, notably celecoxib (Celebrex), increase the risk of heart attacks slightly.
So Grandma was right – live well and prosper. Or was that Spock? (Goofy, I know…)