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Drawback To 'Wonder Drug'

Regular aspirin use may raise a woman's risk of pancreatic cancer when taken over long periods of time, according to a new study.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains researchers at Harvard and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found women who took two or more standard dose of aspirin a week for 20 years or more had a 58 percent higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

Among consistent users, the risk was upped with the dose. Those who took 14 tablets or more per week had an 86 percent greater risk, while those who only took one to three aspirins a week had an 11 percent greater risk.

Aspirin and other drugs like it have an anti-inflammatory effect that is known to work well to relieve headache and other pain. And, currently many people take a daily low dose of aspirin to ward off heart disease, too.

Aspirin also seems to protect against colon cancer. Many current aspirin research is focus on the drug's use to prevent cancer.

The women who took the most aspirin in the study said they were taking it because of headaches or other chronic aches and pains like arthritis.

Senay warns that the study's finding does not mean women should no longer use aspirin. More studies are needed to confirm the findings before any conclusions can be drawn.

She also says aspirin is a powerful drug and should not be taken on a regular basis for any reason without consulting a doctor first. Side effects like bleeding or an allergy to aspirin can be potentially disastrous. The researchers, however, say women will now have to talk seriously with their doctor before deciding to take aspirin on a regular basis.

Women who take a daily low-dose of aspirin for heart disease should talk to their doctors about individual risk. Senay says there are important benefits to taking a low dose of aspirin daily when it comes to preventing heart disease in those at risk, and the researchers suggest that these benefits outweigh the risk of cancer shown in this study for the time being. Heart disease kills almost a million people each year, while pancreatic cancer kills about 30,000.

Currently, it is not clear if the findings from the new study can apply to men as well as women, or whether the findings will hold true for women in further studies. But, Senay says, the study serves as a warning flag that this wonder drug may come with some potentially very serious drawbacks over the long run.