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Aspirin for Colon Cancer and Heart Disease?

New recommendations say yes; experts urge caution

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends people between the ages of 50 and 59 take low-dose aspirin to prevent colon cancer and heart disease.

The task force suggests the daily pill for adults who have a 10 percent or greater risk of developing heart disease over the next 10 years, are not at an increased risk for bleeding and have a life expectancy of at least 10 years. Low-dose aspirin (81 mg) has proved beneficial for people who already have coronary heart disease, including those who have had bypass surgery, a stent or a heart attack. Those at extremely high risk for heart disease also may benefit. And the recommendations come on the heels of a study from Denmark of 113,000 people that found taking one or two baby aspirins a day for at least five years was linked to a 27 percent lower risk of developing colorectal cancer.

“In this recommendation, we try to provide additional guidance about who is most likely to achieve benefits from aspirin,” said Doug Owens, M.D., a member of the task force and a professor of medicine at Stanford University.

USPSTF isn’t recommending that aspirin be used only for colon cancer prevention. ”We’re not recommending you take aspirin for colorectal cancer if you’re not at high risk for cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Owens said.

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Despite these new recommendations, however, experts urge caution.

“It’s important to understand that there are risks for aspirin,” cardiologist Steven Nissen, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic told Boston’s WCVB. In fact, internal bleeding is common with daily aspirin use.

Because aspirin reduces the clotting ability of blood platelets (and depending on a person’s medical history), regular use of aspirin to prevent disease may increase the risk for life-threatening bleeding in the stomach or brain.

Experts say don’t take aspirin if you’re doing so without a doctor’s guidance and have no history of heart disease or heart attack. Even if you have an existing heart condition, you should still talk to your doctor before adding aspirin to your regimen. He or she will be able to assess your risks and benefits. Also keep in mind that the recommendation comes within the context of a healthy lifestyle; aspirin won’t work if you smoke, eat unhealthy food or avoid exercise.

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