Aspirin May Reduce Risk of Colon Cancer for Patients at High Risk for the Disease, Studies Find
Aspirin can reduce the risk of colorectal polyps, the precursors of colon cancer, in patients at a high risk for the disease, according to two studies published in today's New England Journal of Medicine, the New York Times reports. One study, led by Dr. Robert Sandler of the University of North Carolina, involved 635 patients who had had colon or rectal cancer and found that 17% of those who took a 325-miligram dose of aspirin developed polyps, compared with 27% of those who took a placebo. The study ended early, after only 31 months, because of the "definitive" results, the Times reports. A second study, led by Dr. John Baron of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, involved 1,121 patients who had had polyps removed, assigned patients to take a placebo, an adult-dose aspirin or an 81-miligram dose aspirin. After three years, 38% of participants who took an 81-milligram dose aspirin had polyps, compared with 45% of those who took an adult-dose aspirin and 47% of those who took a placebo (Kolata, New York Times, 3/6). Researchers concluded that aspirin appears to reduce polyps in those at high risk for colorectal cancer but did not recommend that the medication could serve as a preventative treatment for a broader population, the Baltimore Sun reports. Complications, such as stomach ulcers and kidney problems, could develop from aspirin treatment, they said. Dr. Richard Rothstein, an author of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center study, said, "While we celebrate the modest effect aspirin had in this very defined group of people, it's too early to recommend that an aspirin a day can keep cancer away" (Bor, Baltimore Sun, 3/6). In an NEJM editorial that accompanied the studies, Dr. Thomas Imperiale of Indiana University, wrote, "Although aspirin may be of some benefit in preventing colorectal cancer it cannot yet be recommended for this indication and is not a substitute for screening and surveillance" (Mishra, Boston Globe, 3/6). The abstract of the University of North Carolina study is available online at http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/short/348/10/883. The abstract of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center study is available online.
The two studies, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, mark the "first proof" in "mounting evidence" that aspirin protects against colon cancer, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to the American Cancer Society, about 147,500 U.S. residents will develop the colon cancer this year, and 57,100 will die from the disease (Maugh, Los Angeles Times, 3/6). Dr. Ernest Hawk, chief of gastrointestinal cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute, said the studies "lend support" to about 30 other studies that found aspirin could serve as a preventive treatment for individuals at risk for colon cancer, the Sun reports (Baltimore Sun, 3/6). CBS' "Evening News" yesterday reported on the studies. The segment includes comments from Sandler and Dr. Carol Burke of the Cleveland Clinic (Kaledin, "Evening News," CBS, 3/5). The full transcript and video of the segment in RealPlayer are available online. NPR's "All Things Considered" yesterday also reported on the studies. The segment includes comments from Baron, Imperiale and Sandler (Hamilton, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/5). The full segment is available in RealPlayer online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.