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Stanford physician provides insight on use of aspirin to help keep heart attacks and cancer away

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Douglas Owens, MD, is on the panel of medical experts that just recommended a daily dose of aspiring to ward off heart attacks and cancer. But he doesn’t want people running off to the drugstore just yet.

“It is nuanced,” said Owens, director of the Center for Health Policy/Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research, in an online story. “Our recommendation applies to people who are at increased risk of heart disease and who do not have increased risk of bleeding complications.”

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of medical experts from around the nation, said yesterday that taking aspirin can help 50- to 59-year-olds who are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease prevent heart attacks and strokes.

The panel also said that taking aspirin for at least five to 10 years could help prevent colorectal cancer. Individuals 60 to 69 may also benefit from aspirin, but the benefit is smaller than in people 50 to 59.

But Owens cautioned the new recommendations come with a caveat: A daily dose of aspirin can cause stomach and brain bleeds. People with stomach and liver problems, bleeding disorders or who are taking blood thinners, are at greater risk of experiencing the side effects of aspirin.

And, he emphasized, the new recommendations are for older adults and those with substantially elevated risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Each person has only one decision to make — whether or not to take aspirin for prevention,” said Owens. “To help individuals and their clinicians make this decision, the task force integrated the evidence about the use of aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer into one recommendation on the use of aspirin.”

But the task force also concluded that it doesn’t have enough to current evidence to assess the balance of benefits and harms of aspirin use in adults younger than age 50 and those older than 70.

The draft guidelines, which are open for public comment at the task force website, have provoked criticism by some cardiologists and physicians who are concerned that healthy Americans who start taking aspirin on a daily basis could expose themselves to the drug’s negative side effects, such as stomach bleeding and hemorrhagic strokes.

Beth Duff-Brown is communications manager for the Center for Health Policy and Center for Primary and Outcomes Research.

Previously: Study shows daily aspirin could lower women's risk of ovarian cancerCan repackaging aspirin get more people to take it daily for prevention? and New research shows aspirin may cut melanoma risk
Photo courtesy of CHP/PCOR

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