But a simple aspirin could be the wonder drug the doctor order to help fight the disease. The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay says it is proving to be an effective way to prevent colon cancer.
There has been preliminary evidence that aspirin might be useful in preventing some types of cancer, such as reducing the risk of polyps in the colon, says Dr. Senay, which can sometimes be a precursor to colon cancer.
Two new major studies in the New England Journal of Medicine provide evidence of the cancer-fighting properties of the wonder drug. Doctors have recognized for a time that aspirin might decrease the risk of colon cancer, but the new studies are the first randomized trials that show conclusively the cancer-fighting benefit of taking a daily aspirin.
Dr. Senay says the studies had mixed results on how much aspirin did the patients need to take each day to reduce their risk. In one study, high-risk patients who had colon cancer previously took one 325 mg aspirin each day, and they lowered their risk of polyps by 35 percent.
Researchers found that the average number of polyps was lower in the aspirin group and aspirin delayed the appearance of polyps and slowed their development.
Another study, which looked at people who didn't have cancer but are prone to polyps, showed a similar protective effect of aspirin. But it found that a lower dose of aspirin, about 80mg, was more effective.
It seems aspirin will turn out to be a useful weapon to fight off colon cancer, but it doesn't mean that people can assume that aspirin will completely protect them from the disease. Dr. Senay says for the high risk colon cancer patients in the study, aspirin was given in addition to colonoscopy, during which any polyps that aspirin failed to prevent were removed.
You should consult with you doctor when you should be screened for colon cancer — starting at the age of 50 for most — and whether aspirin is right for you, Dr. Senay recommends.
Aspirin is a powerful drug and can cause serious trouble for some people. But, Dr. Senay says, the new studies add significantly to the list of benefits of aspirin. She says certain high risk patients will be able to take aspirin to help ward off colon cancer in the same way a daily dose is recommended for some to help prevent heart disease.
But, it's a little early to say that everyone should start taking it to prevent colon cancer, Dr. Senay warns.