Harvard Men's Health Watch

Acetaminophen and prostate cancer

Q. I was very interested in your article on aspirin and cancer. You commented that aspirin may help prevent cancer, but I can't take aspirin, even in low doses. I use Tylenol for pain and fever — can it also help against cancer?

A. The aspirin story is encouraging, but it's a work in progress. Current evidence suggests that daily low-dose aspirin, such as 81 milligrams, may help reduce the risk of certain malignancies. The evidence is best for gastrointestinal cancers, including colon cancer, but research also offers hope that aspirin may help protect against other tumors, including prostate cancer. However, aspirin can produce gastrointestinal bleeding and other side effects, even in low doses. All in all, most experts think it's too early to recommend aspirin specifically for cancer prevention, except, perhaps, for some people who are at high risk for colon cancer and low risk of peptic ulcers and bleeding.

Aspirin is the oldest member of a large group of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Aspirin is also the safest of these drugs, since it's the only member of the group that does not increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. And a meta-analysis of 17 studies of aspirin linked the drug to a 17% reduction in the risk of prostate cancer. Other research suggests that various nonaspirin NSAIDs are also capable of reducing the risk of cancer. Twelve studies of nonaspirin NSAIDs reported a 10% reduction in the risk of prostate cancer.

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