For years, doctors have recommended daily aspirin to lower cardiovascular risk in certain men and women. Now, for the first time, an expert panel is recommending aspirin therapy to prevent heart attacks and colorectal cancer.
The guideline for those at high risk of the disease, published Monday in a draft report from the United States Preventive Services Task Force, is the first time a major American medical organization has issued a broad recommendation to take aspirin to prevent a form of cancer. The move follows a growing body of evidence that suggests that aspirin may be a potent yet overlooked weapon in the war against colorectal cancer.
Even so, the draft guidelines are drawing criticism from some experts who worry that healthy people who take aspirin also expose themselves to its very serious side effects, including stomach bleeds and hemorrhagic strokes or brain bleeds. Others say there are far better proven ways to prevent heart attacks and thwart colon cancer, such as cholesterol-and blood-pressure-lowering drugs to reduce heart risk and screening colonoscopy to identify precancerous polyps.
But the task force, an independent panel of experts in prevention and primary care appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services, wields enormous influence. The panel’s recommendations on things like mammograms and prostate cancer screening have changed the way doctors practice medicine in the United States. Nearly 40 percent of American adults older than 50 use aspirin for primary or secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, a number likely to increase if the recommendations are finalized.
In its latest report, the task force found that taking low-dose aspirin can help prevent heart attacks, stroke and colorectal cancer, and that the benefits outweighed the risks in adults ages 50 to 69 who are at high risk for heart disease. The biggest benefit was seen in high-risk people in their 50s. The recommendation is weaker for high-risk adults 60 to 69, because the risk of harmful bleeds increases with age. A high-risk cardiovascular patient is defined as someone who has a 10 percent or greater risk of having a heart attack during the next 10 years, something that can be determined using the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s online risk assessment tool.
SOURCE: RONI CARYN RABIN
The New York Times