Aspirin May Reduce Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer

Aspirin May Reduce Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer

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As many people know, a daily aspirin can help stave off a heart attack. Apparently, your ticker isn’t the only part of your body that may benefit from a dose of the drug: Aspirin significantly reduces men’s risk of prostate cancer, reveals a new Duke University study, presented at the 13th Annual American Association for Cancer Research Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research Conference, held in New Orleans, La., this week. 

The 6,390 men, none of whom had prostate cancer at the start of the study, were part of the Reduce trial, a GlaxoSmithKline-sponsored study designed to test whether dutasteride, a drug for enlarged prostate, reduces the risk of prostate cancer. 

Recently, Duke University researchers decided to pose a second question— this one about an over-the-counter drug: How did the men’s intake of aspirin affect their odds of a prostate cancer diagnosis? 

Their interest was sparked because of a previously observed phenomenon: Taking anti-inflammatory meds like aspirin can lower men’s levels of prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, which, if elevated, is considered a marker for prostate cancer, explained study author Adriana Vidal, an assistant professor of urology at Duke University.

Half of the men in the study were taking aspirin, another nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), or both. Half weren’t. Over the course of the four-year study, the pill-popping guys fared better: Taking aspirin and/or NSAIDs was associated with a 13 percent lower risk of developing prostate cancer. Even more promising, the OTC meds were linked to a 17 percent reduction in aggressive prostate cancer odds. 

Related: Going Bald? You May Face a Higher Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer

The most likely explanation for the finding lies with two enzymes: COX-1 and COX-2. “These enzymes participate in the synthesis of inflammatory prostaglandins that can promote cell proliferation,” Vidal told Yahoo Health. “This can eventually lead to cancer. Aspirin and NSAIDs inhibit these enzymes.” 

Past research has suggested a similar link between aspirin and prevention of other types of cancer. A 2010 study in The Lancet, for example, found that taking at least 75 milligrams of aspirin per day, over the course of five years, significantly reduced the risk of colon cancer. “It’s quite promising, particularly for colon cancer. Maybe for some types of breast cancer,” said Vidal. “However, for prostate cancer, the reduction in risk is not huge — and aspirin and other NSAIDs may have some potential side effects, like GI bleeding.” 

That’s why her research team isn’t quite ready to recommend a daily dose of aspirin for anybody with a prostate (that’s you, guys). “We didn’t have data on dose or frequency, so that’s a limitation of the study,” Vidal said. However, past studies suggest that taking an aspirin tablet twice a week for at least four years is the minimum intake associated with reduced prostate cancer risk, she added. 

Related: 5 Surprising Uses for Aspirin

Her advice? Talk to your doctor before adding aspirin to your medication regimen — and prioritize that conversation if you’re already at high risk for prostate cancer. Risk factors include age (incidence rapidly rises after age 50), race/ethnicity (prostate cancer is more common in African-American men), family history, being obese, and smoking, according to the American Cancer Society. Not sure where you stand? Use this calculator to estimate your odds of developing the disease. 

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