This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle’s health section on March 26, 2013.
Regular doses of aspirin lower the risks of heart attacks, strokes, and colon, breast and prostate cancer, and now, possibly even melanoma in women, say Stanford researchers in new research this month.
But if aspirin really is a wonder drug, should everyone take it daily? The answer is no, said Dr. Randall Stafford, professor of medicine at Stanford’s Prevention Research Center.
Stafford said the aspirin research is exciting, but aspirin is still a blood thinner, and taking it carries risks. The risks can be minor, such as increased nose bleeds and bruising easily, or major, such as ulcers or brain hemorrhages. Whether aspirin’s benefits outweigh these risks depends on the patient.
For example, he said, someone with heart disease should almost certainly be on a daily aspirin regimen, and many doctors consider recommending it to more patients as they age. Patients with risks factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or smoking may also be good candidates. But younger, healthy patients aren’t likely to benefit from aspirin and may be harmed.
“I definitely don’t recommend everyone go out to Walgreens and pick up over-the-counter aspirin without having a conversation with their doctor,” Stafford said.
Dr. Jean Tang, the lead researcher on the melanoma study, agrees. She said that more research is needed to demonstrate aspirin’s cancer-prevention properties and also points out that sunscreen is a proven way to prevent skin cancer, and it comes without any of aspirin’s risks.