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Aspirin's Effect on Colon Cancer Detailed

A new study shows that regular use of aspirin and painkillers such as ibuprofen is highly effective at preventing colon cancer in women. Even so, experts say people shouldn't take painkillers to prevent cancer, as only high doses proved effective.

It's been known for a while that aspirin and NSAIDs like ibuprofen can reduce the risk of a reoccurrence of polyps or colorectal cancer. Now evidence shows that these drugs and aspirin protect people who have never had any signs of the disease.

However, the benefit is related to the dose. Less aspirin had less effect and the biggest benefit -- a whopping 53 percent lower relative risk for colorectal cancer -- came from taking 14 aspirin per week for longer than 10 years. But the downside is that the drugs can cause gastrointestinal bleeding. Experts say clinicians will now have to identify who should take the risk in order to get the protection.

The results of the study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston are being published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Since he joined NPR in 2000, Knox has covered a broad range of issues and events in public health, medicine, and science. His reports can be heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Talk of the Nation, and newscasts.