An Aspirin A Day Keeps Cancer Away?

Relatives of passengers of the Air France flight 447 are pictured through a glass door as they react at the Tom Jobim Airport in Rio de Janeiro, June 1, 2009.
AP Photo/Ricardo Moraes
Both of Jerry Kyle's parents had colon cancer, so he isn't taking any risks. He gets a regular colonoscopy and he's taking something most people wouldn't associate with cancer prevention: an aspirin a day.

"I personally believe that aspirin's a wonder drug, I really do," says Kyle.

As CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, doctors studying aspirin and its preventive powers in people at highest risk of colon cancer might agree. Two major studies published in New England Journal of Medicine say it works.

"We found that people who took an aspirin a day were 35 percent less likely to develop polyps in their large intestine," says Dr. Robert Sandler of the University of North Carolina.

Polyps are growths that form in the intestines. They can be detected by colonoscopy screening and are easily removed. The studies looked specifically at people who had already had polyps.

"And because we think that most cancers start as polyps, there's reason to think that aspirin might help prevent colon cancer," explains Sandler.

"It's so easy to do. We take vitamins. We take a lot of things. Why not take an aspirin?" asks Kyle.

It turns out there are several reasons. The good news about aspirin and colon cancer comes with warnings. As preventive medicine, this household drug is not for everyone.

"Aspirin is toxic. It can cause gastrointestinal ulcers, can cause effects on the kidneys so patients should not run out and take an aspirin a day," says Dr. Carol Burke of the Cleveland Clinic,

And most important, doctors say, aspirin should never replace colorectal screening.

"If people are serious about preventing colon cancer they'll have colonoscopy or some other screening test," Sandler tells Kaledin.

Colon cancer remains a leading killer, the second cause of cancer deaths nationwide. Aspirin may not be able to tackle it alone, but it's nice to know something so simple can make a difference.