Can aspirin lower colon cancer risk in older people? It depends on when you start

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Regular aspirin use has clear benefits in reducing colorectal cancer incidence among middle-aged adults, but also comes with some risk, such as gastrointestinal bleeding.

And when should adults start taking regular aspirin and for how long?

In a new study, researchers found that aspirin can help lower colon cancer risk in older people, but the age when they start really matters.

The research was conducted by a team at Massachusetts General Hospital.

There is substantial evidence that daily aspirin can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer in adults up to age 70.

But until now there was little evidence about whether older adults should start taking aspirin.

In the study, the team analyzed data from two large U.S. cohort studies: The Nurses’ Health Study (January 1980—June 2014) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (January 1986—January 2014).

These two studies contributed data on more than 94,500 participants’ use of aspirin over about 35 years, offering a unique opportunity to understand the effect of aspirin use across the lifespan on cancer risk.

The researchers found that regular aspirin use was linked to lower colorectal cancer risk among people aged 70 or older.

However, this advantage was only strong among people who started taking aspirin before the age of 70.

People who started regular aspirin use at the age of 70 or older did not seem to reap any benefit.

The study confirms that initiating aspirin at an older age was not associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.

However, importantly, there is a potential benefit of continuing aspirin if is started at an earlier age.

These results strongly suggest that there is a potential biological difference in the effect of aspirin at older ages which requires further research.

The team says as people get older, if they are not already taking aspirin, a discussion is warranted about whether to start aspirin after weighing the benefits against the risks.

One author of the study is Andrew T. Chan MD, MPH, a gastroenterologist and chief of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit.

The study is published in JAMA Oncology.

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