Aspirin continues to live up to its slogan as “the wonder drug” : a new study published in the Lancet reports that taking aspirin daily for at least 5 consecutive years is associated with reduced risk of developing cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, brain, lung, stomach, colon, rectum and prostate. Previous studies have demonstrated its effect in reducing the risk for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, heart attacks and strokes. And don’t forget pain relief! But like all drugs, aspirin has negative side effects and can cause, among other things, increased bleeding and stomach ulcers. In fact, an international consensus statement (also published in the Lancet) reports that “the data on the risk—benefit profile for cancer prevention are insufficient and no definitive recommendations can be made… More studies of aspirin and cancer prevention are needed to define the lowest effective dose, the age at which to initiate therapy, the optimum treatment duration, and the subpopulations for which the benefits of chemoprevention outweigh the risks of adverse side-effects.”
So what should you do? For most healthy adults without bleeding disorders and stomach acid disorders (ie heartburn and ulcers) it may be reasonable to begin taking a “baby aspirin” (81mg) daily in their 40s or 50s. Taking it with an acid reducing medication (ie Zantac, Pepcid, Prevacid, Protonix, Prilosec, Nexium) may lower the risk for developing a stomach ulcer. However, as with all health questions you should ask your doctor for personalized advice.