An aspirin a day may keep colorectal cancer away
Falmouth Hospital surgeon Peter Hopewood, MD, FACS, takes an 81 mg tablet of aspirin every day to help prevent colorectal cancer. While he concedes he takes it mainly to prevent heart problems, an added benefit is colon protection.
“Recent studies have shown aspirin to be very effective in decreasing heart disease and also decreasing polyp formation in the bowel,” he said. “I’ve had a colonoscopy (a screening test using a scope to view the colon) and had a benign polyp, so now I’m on the five-year follow-up colonoscopy plan.”
A study published in JAMA Oncology last year concluded that “regular aspirin moderately reduced the incidence of overall cancer, with more substantial benefits observed for gastrointestinal tract cancers, especially colorectal.”
Researchers also found the risk of developing gastrointestinal cancers, including colorectal cancer, seemed to be dose-dependent. Those taking a low-dose aspirin (81mg) seven days a week for 10 years did better than those who took higher doses of aspirin.
Dr. Hopewood recently started recommending aspirin as a preventive measure against colorectal cancer. In addition, he stresses colonoscopy and the Fecal Immunochemical test (FIT), a test that checks for blood in your stool, as important screening tools for pre-emptive care.
Colonoscopies are done for two different reasons, according to Dr. Hopewood:
- A prevention screening colonoscopy is done every 10 years after age 50, if you are completely well without any symptoms or blood in your stool. If your gastroenterologist finds a benign polyp and removes it the polyp is prevented from developing into colon cancer.
- Diagnostic colonoscopy is done when you have symptoms such as cramps, changes in your stool, anemia or unintended weight loss.
The FIT test is an additional diagnostic tool that can be especially helpful for those who can’t tolerate the prep of the colonoscopy, can’t afford the test because it is expensive and they may not have health insurance, or it is too inconvenient.
“The American Cancer Society (ASC) now says you can do a FIT test that checks for blood in samples of your stool,” said Dr. Hopewood. “This test is done annually and if it is positive, you follow it up with a colonoscopy.”
Dr. Hopewood recommends his patients take a daily aspirin to prevent polyp growth, especially after surgery or colonoscopy to remove a malignant polyp.
“We don’t know how long it takes to develop a polyp or for a polyp to become malignant. In these circumstances, we remove the malignant polyp with a colonoscopy or surgery, and follow-up a year later with a colonoscopy. If that shows no polyps, then we repeat colonoscopy three to five years later,” he said.
While aspirin and screenings can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, you can also make changes to the following risk factors to prevent colorectal cancer, according to the ACS:
- Obesity or being overweight
- Physical inactivity
- Diets high in red meats such as beef, pork, lamb or liver and processed meats, such as hot dogs and luncheon meats.
- Cooking meats at high temperatures
- Heavy alcohol use
“For the general population, we recommend good nutrition with the right foods, weight and alcohol control, and an 81 mg aspirin,” said Dr. Hopewood. “The most important is getting the FIT test or the colonoscopy.”