Colon cancer and aspirin
Haider Zafar, MD, is a certified hematologist and oncologist and chairman of the Cancer Committee at Banner Estrella Medical Center He can be reached at (623) 478-8091.
Question: I recently heard that taking aspirin would help prevent colorectal cancer. Is there any truth to that? If not, what should I be doing?
Answer: Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, is the third most common form of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the Western world. It is most prevalent in individuals over the age of 50. In the early stages there are no noticeable symptoms.
Clinical trials have indicated that while taking aspirin may have some benefit in reducing the incidence of colorectal cancer, the risks and the benefits have not been properly defined and as yet taking aspirin for reducing colon cancer is not a standard recommendation.
It is important for patients to be tested for colorectal cancer after the age of 50 unless they have a family or personal history of the disease. Then it should be done earlier. If you test positive for hidden fecal blood or have abdominal pain, any change in the bowel habits or change in the consistency of the stool, you need to tell your doctor so it can be checked.
There are several risk factors that should be considered in addition to age. If the patient has a family history of colon cancer or a personal history of colon polyps or if a woman has had cancer of the ovary, uterus or breast they are at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Diet has also been shown to play a part. Diets high in fats, especially animal fats, and that are low in dairy, fruits and vegetables have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. Alcohol and smoking can also increase the risk.
Treatment of colon and rectal cancers is a little different. For example, radiation is not routinely used to treat colon cancer, however it is frequently used to treat rectal cancer. Surgery is also a very important part of the treatment plan.
Industrialized countries such as the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom have the highest incidents of colorectal cancer in the world and yet they have the highest cure rate. Detected early ( Stage I ) the survival rate approaches 90 percent.