Harvard Health Letter

In Brief: Aspirin as colon cancer treatment?

Aspirin has solid cardiovascular health credentials. For men, regular use starting in the mid-40s lowers the risk of having a heart attack. For women, regular use starting in the mid-50s reduces the chances of having a stroke.

Aspirin also has colon cancer prevention on its r?sum?, but it's not nearly as clear-cut as the cardiovascular bona fides. The research has ping-ponged back and forth. One study suggested that daily doses in the same range used for cardiovascular purposes (81–325 mg) could prevent the recurrence of polyps in people who have already had them. But a couple of large randomized trials didn't find any benefit for people who hadn't had polyps or colon cancer. The American Cancer Society and other groups haven't endorsed the routine use of aspirin for colon cancer prevention. The thinking is that the iffy evidence of protection is outweighed by the very real risks of gastrointestinal bleeding.

But in 2009, Harvard researchers reported study results that might add a whole new chapter to humble aspirin's improbable career. The gist of their findings was that people with nonmetastatic colon cancer who took aspirin regularly after their diagnosis were less likely to die from the disease than those who didn't take aspirin. The study covered a follow-up period of about a dozen years.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »