Aspirin: New Weapon in Colon Cancer Fight?

There is good news in the fight against the second deadliest form of cancer, colorectal cancer: a treatment could be as close as your very own medicine cabinet.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton appeared on "The Early Show" Wednesday to discuss the new findings.

Nearly 50,000 Americans will die of this disease this year alone. But the new research finds something as simple as Aspirin could help those diagnosed with colon cancer live longer.

Fifty-four year old former fire chief Thomas Reinecke thought his abdominal pains were caused by stress, but a colonoscopy revealed he had colon cancer.

"I felt like my whole world caved in on me. I wasn't expecting that and wasn't quite sure how to react or how to handle it," he recalled.

Reinecke wanted to get back to battling fires, and saving lives and now, a new study shows simple Aspirin could help that fight.

"Aspirin may turn out to have a significant benefit in terms of improving survival for colon cancer patients," explained Dr. Alfred Neugut from New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

The study looked at over 1,200 colon cancer patients; those who took Aspirin after their diagnosis reduced their risk of dying from the disease by 29 percent.

Most colon cancer tumors produce an enzyme called COX-2, which triggers the cancer cells to grow. The theory is Aspirin may work by blocking COX-2 and preventing cancer growth.

"We should remember aspirin has side effects. We'll wait and see if it becomes part of the standard treatment for colon cancer," Dr. Neugut added.

Today, Reinecke is finishing his chemotherapy, excited that something cheap, and found in most medicine cabinets could help make him well. "If Aspirin will help, I'll be the first one on board for that," he said.

The study looked at patients whose cancer had not yet spread. So future research will likely try to determine if Aspirin can help people with more advanced disease.

Asked if this means everyone with colon cancer should start taking an Aspirin a day, Ashton explained that it's really too early to make an across-the-board recommendation. This study was an "observational" study meaning researchers merely observed what patients were already doing, such as taking Aspirin for headaches.

On average, the patients in this study took two adult aspirins a week. But the findings really need to be confirmed in a drug trial where patients would be randomly assigned to either take Aspirin or a placebo in order to verify the results and make sure it was the Aspirin responsible for longer survival rates and not something else.

And there are side effects to remember. Aspirin is a powerful medication and can potentially have serious side effects, such as bleeding and stomach irritation. And it's also unclear how it may interact with other medications commonly used to treat colon cancer. So patients should definitely talk to their doctors about weighing the risks vs. benefits.