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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Recent data suggests that aspirin may be effective for reducing cancer deaths in addition to preventing heart attacks, raising the question whether the combined health benefits outweigh the risks of gastrointestinal bleeding and stroke for middle-aged men, researchers announced Wednesday.
While aspirin has been shown to be effective in preventing heart attacks in men, it also increases the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and possibly stroke, even at low doses. As such, national guidelines suggest that aspirin be used for prevention only in men at higher risk for cardiovascular events, so that the benefits of aspirin are greater than its adverse effects.
A research team, including University of North Carolina scientists, reported that including the positive effects of aspirin on cancer mortality influences the threshold for prescribing aspirin for primary prevention in men. The benefit of aspirin for cancer mortality prevention would help offset the risks, and thus lower the age and increase the number of men for whom aspirin is recommended.
Their results were published in the June issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
“We found that including a risk reduction for cancer deaths had a substantial impact on the overall benefits of aspirin, especially for early middle-aged men from 45 to 55 years of age," noted Michael Pignone, lead author and professor of medicine and chief of the division of general internal medicine. "Based on this effect, several million men who were not previously good candidates for aspirin prevention would now become eligible."
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, of which Pignone is a recently appointed member, recommends aspirin for primary prevention in men “when the potential benefit of a reduction in myocardial infarctions outweighs the potential harm of an increase in gastrointestinal hemorrhage.” This recommendation was issued in 2009, before the potential benefits for cancer reduction were recognized, researchers noted.