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Aspirin and Cancer: It May Help With Prostate, Not With Breast


Two new studies, published Monday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, offer contrasting news about aspirin's potential role in cancer prevention and treatment.

Men who were being treated for prostate cancer and were taking aspirin for other medical conditions were less likely to die of their cancer than were men who were not taking aspirin, The New York Times reports.

On the other hand, taking aspirin did not appear to protect postmenopausal women from developing breast cancer, according to Health Day news.

Previous research, some of it by the Harvard researchers involved in this breast cancer study, has shown that aspirin may help lower the risk of developing colon cancer.

There were big differences between the two new studies, explained Stanley Liauw, M.D., author of the prostate cancer study and an associate professor at the University of Chicago Medical Center's Department of Radiation and Cellular Oncology.

The breast cancer study looked at how aspirin might prevent a new cancer from occurring, while the prostate study examined how aspirin might keep an established cancer from getting worse.

Liauw also told Health Day that the different sites in the body where the two cancers occur may play a role in why aspirin had a dramatic effect with one but not the other.

In the prostate study, 6,000 men who had undergone either surgery or radiation therapy were followed for 10 years. About 37 percent of the men were already taking some type of anticoagulant, such as aspirin, warfarin or Plavix, when the study began.

Liauw and his team showed that those who were taking aspirin had a 57 percent reduction in the risk of death from prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer that occurs in men.

Keep in mind, though, that this was not a randomized, controlled trial - considered the gold standard in clinical research. No dosage information was collected, so researchers cannot say exactly how much aspirin was most beneficial.

But researchers found that the prostate cancer death rate for those taking aspirin was 3 percent, compared with 8 percent for those who did not, The New York Times reported. Also, the aspirin users were significantly less likely to experience a recurrence of prostate cancer or have the disease spread to the bones, the study found.

In the breast cancer study, researchers led by Xuehong Zhang, M.D., an instructor in medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, tracked nearly 85,000 postmenopausal women, all of whom were working as registered nurses when the study began.

About every two years, the women completed questionnaires regarding their medical histories and lifestyle, including their routine use of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), like acetaminophen.

Over 30 years, more than 4,700 of the women developed some form of invasive breast cancer. Nonetheless, Zhang's team wrote that use of aspirin or other NSAIDs did not have any significant impact on lowering either overall breast cancer risk or the risk for a specific subtype, like receptor 2 positive.

Health experts, however, caution that older adults should not begin taking aspirin without first consulting their doctor.

While many Americans use low-dose aspirin to reduce their risk of heart disease, taking aspirin regularly increases the risk for gastrointestinal bleeding and stroke.

In other health news:

Midlife fitness may pay off in later years. The Washington Post reports that those who were most fit in their 30s, 40s and 50s had a lighter load of chronic health conditions such as congestive heart failure, ischemic heart disease, stroke, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer's disease, and colon and lung cancers in their later years - specifically, in this study, after age 65.

Pot-smoking teens face mental slippage as adults. A new study reported in the Los Angeles Times finds that adults who smoked marijuana early and often in life face a higher likelihood of sheering off IQ points and performing more poorly on tests of reasoning, attention and memory as they approach age 40, when compared with those who smoked pot less often.

Photo: Courtesy Johns Hopkins Medicine

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