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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Aspirin May Help Treat Colon Cancer

Study Shows Aspirin Use Boosts Survival Rate of People With Colon Cancer
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 11, 2009 -- Certain patients with colorectal cancer who begin regular aspirin use after the disease develops may greatly improve their odds of survival, researchers in Boston report.

Aspirin is often praised for its anticancer effects. Numerous studies have suggested that regular aspirin use may help lower the risk of colon polyps and colorectal cancer. Now, a study published in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association is among the first to link aspirin use and colon cancer survival.

For the study, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Brigham and Women's Hospital looked at the link between aspirin use and survival among 1,279 adults with stage I, II, or III nonmetastatic colorectal cancer, or cancer that had not spread to distant areas.

The patients had enrolled in two large studies in the 1980s prior to their cancer diagnosis and agreed to answer questions about their health over the years. Researchers followed them through June 2008.

In general, study participants who reported aspirin use after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer had a 29% lower risk of colorectal cancer death and a 21% lower risk of overall death, compared to non-aspirin users. The researchers note that the main reasons reported for aspirin use included headache, arthritis, musculoskeletal pain, and treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Taking aspirin for the first time after a diagnosis improved a patient's odds even more. Among the specific study findings:

  • Patients with colorectal cancer who started regular aspirin use for the first time after diagnosis had a 47% lower risk of colorectal cancer death and 32% lower risk of overall death than nonusers of aspirin.
  • The survival advantage was seen only in those with Cox-2-positive tumors. Most colorectal tumors are Cox-2-positive.

Aspirin-Resistant Colon Cancer

The study showed that starting regular aspirin use for the first time after a colorectal cancer diagnosis greatly reduced the risk of colorectal cancer-related death, but taking aspirin before colorectal cancer developed and continuing to do so after diagnosis did not significantly influence survival rates. In other words, former regular aspirin users do not reap as much benefit as those who are new to regular aspirin use.

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