Does Aspirin Reduce the Risk of Prostate Cancer

New research published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that a low dose of aspirin (81mg a day) may decrease the risk of prostate cancer in men who are high risk.  

According to the study, high-risk men who took aspirin or another NSAID lowered their risk for overall prostate cancer by 13% and potentially deadly prostate cancer by 17%. This association (not causation) is thought to be a result of reducing the inflammatory marker Cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2) in the body. Over six thousand men between the ages of 50 and 75 participated in the study. They included men from North American and Europe.

It would seem like this is great news. After all, anything that reduces one’s risk for prostate cancer is, in theory, a good thing. But it’s important to remember that this finding is only a hypothesis; in order to have strong evidence for aspirin’s effects on prostate cancer risk, we need many clinical trials. Hidden away in the news report is a caveat from Dr. James Marshall of Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. According to Marshall, the study “does not allow us to say for sure that aspirin prevented—(or) caused low risk of—prostate cancer. All we can say, given these data, is that the two are associated.” 

There’s a problem with aspirin though: it is not only a COX-2 inhibitor, but also a Cyclooxygenase 1 (COX-1) inhibitor. COX 1 is an important enzyme in regulating and maintaining the lining of the stomach. Disruption of this enzyme causes gastrointestinal (GI) issues typically experienced in about 50% of aspirin users.

Natural alternative COX 2 inhibitor’s I use personally and prescribe to patients include curcumin, an ingredient found in the turmeric spice, and omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil and krill oil. Curcumin and Omega 3 fatty acids are believed to have numerous anti-inflammatory benefits in the body, and very importantly, are not COX-1 inhibitors.

As a naturopathic doctor, I prefer natural alternatives whenever possible. A number of my patients are on 81mg a day of aspirin, and that is just fine by me as long as these GI problems are avoided. At times I have to switch them to natural alternatives as the GI discomfort can become overwhelming. 

In addition to the potential protective effect of aspirin, curcumin, and omega 3 fatty acids on prostate cancer risk, it is always important to lower your risk of developing cancer by consistently making smart lifestyle choices. Eat smart, get moving, and don’t smoke. Remember: no one substance will ever fully offset the effects of unhealthy living. (See our two posts on good habits from last week, here and here.)

All the Best,

Dr. Geo

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