Colon cancer can be a devastating disease. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, more than one-third of Americans who develop colon cancer will die of the disease. When examining the projected number of people who will develop colon cancer in 2017, that equals over 203,000 individuals. These men and women are husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and beloved friends. Scientists are constantly seeking new treatments to stop colon cancer, and researchers have found promise in nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
The Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota has partnered with a team of scientists from across the country to analyze the effects of NSAIDs, aspirin and several other supplements in their role in preventing the recurrence of advanced neoplasia (precancerous polyps) after polyps have already been removed. The majority of colon cancer mortality arises from advanced neoplasia, so this research has enormous implications.
M. Hassan Murad, M.D., a clinical epidemiologist and preventive medicine physician at Mayo Clinic, and the study’s senior author, said, “Approximately 85 percent of all colorectal cancers are thought to result from untreated adenomatous polyps. If we can find a way to stop their growth, we could prevent a majority of these cases.”
The research time found that nonaspirin NSAIDs like ibuprofen were more effective than aspirin or other nutritional supplements to prevent the growth of advanced adenomas. Because most colon cancers develop from precancerous polyps that gradually become malignant, preventing polyp growth means preventing colon cancer.
Using data from 15 randomized control trials, the team analyzed information from 12,234 individuals. The studies included low-dose and high-dose aspirin therapy, calcium, vitamin D, and folic acid. The team compared each medication or supplement individually or in various combinations. Dr. Murad and the team knew the protective effects of aspirin and other NSAIDS in preventing colon cancer, but they were not aware of how these therapies measured up to each other in effectiveness.
Among all the therapies, nonaspirin NSAIDS are the most effective in preventing the regrowth of adenomatous polyps within 3 to 5 years of initial polyp removal. This is good news because nonaspirin NSAIDs are economical and easy to obtain. There are some significant health concerns about the long-term use of NSAIDs, and they have many known side-effects such as hypertension, fluid retention, kidney problems, heart problems, ulcers, stomach upset, gastro bleeding, and rashes.
Most people assume that over-the-counter medication is safer than similar medication that must be obtained by a prescription, but this is not always true. Because of the health risks of nonaspirin NSAIDs, they are not the best choice for all patients who are trying to prevent the recurrence of polyps. Aspirin was nearly as effective and had significantly lower risk, which might make it a more favorable option for many patients.
If you have a personal history of polyps, talk to your doctor about the medication or therapy that will work best for you. All medications have benefits and risks, especially when you are currently taking other medication. You can trust your doctor to prescribe the right treatment for you and to schedule regular checkups to monitor your progress.