Regular intake of one to two aspirins each day for at least five years may help individuals reduce their risk of developing colorectal cancer, according to new research conducted in Denmark.

In a study featured in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, scientists at the Danish Cancer Society Research Center examined data collected from over 113,000 individuals to find out the potential impact of taking aspirin and other medication known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) on colorectal cancer.

The researchers' objective was to explore the link between rates of colorectal cancer, aspirin and NSAIDs and the duration of the treatment.

Previous research had suggested that drugs such as aspirin and NSAIDs may provide protection against cancer of the colon and rectum, but it was not clear how much of these medications are needed to be taken and for how long in order to experience such benefits.

Colorectal Cancer Risk

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the risk of developing bowel cancer in general is dependent on the age, lifestyle, race and ethnicity of the patient. The institute stated that over 90 percent of cancer cases are diagnosed in individuals older than 50 years old.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also provides an online risk calculator in which it indicates that in the United States, the 10-year risk of contracting bowel cancer for an average European-American or African-American woman in her late fifties is between one to 1.4 percent, while her lifetime risk is measured at around five percent to 5.4 percent.

Average European-American or African-American men in their late fifties, on the other hand, experience bowel cancer risks at around 1.4 percent to 5.8 percent.

Impact of Taking Aspirin and NSAIDs

In this latest study, the researchers discovered that taking low doses of aspirin continuously for around five years appeared to have reduced colorectal cancer risk among the participants by as much as 27 percent, while taking NSAIDs for the same period appeared to have reduced cancer risks by as much as 30 percent.

Meanwhile, those who merely took aspirin did not experience any benefit from the drug against colorectal cancer.

Researcher Dr. Soren Friis pointed out that unless the patient continuously takes low doses of aspirin, he or she may not be able to benefit from the protection that the drugs could provide against bowel cancer.

Friis added that non-aspirin NSAIDs were also found to provide protection against bowel cancer with consistent and long-term use. He said that there was also evidence that those who did not take NSAIDs continuously still experience a marginally effective protection from bowel cancer.

Despite these positive results, the researchers still warn individuals on the health risks of taking aspirin and NSAIDs. They said that long-term use of these medications, for example, can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding, which is why it is important to balance the potential benefits of colon cancer protection against the drugs' own side effects.

Several limitations were also noted in the study. The researchers, for instance, only used data from individuals who obtained aspirin or NSAIDs through prescriptions given by their doctors. They did not include data from patients who obtained the medications through over-the-counter purchases.

The research team also cannot eliminate the possibility that several other factors could have influenced the colorectal cancer risks of the patients, including dietary habits, obesity, alcohol use and the patients' own family history of bowel cancer.

Photo: Sage Ross | Flickr 

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