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Aspirin and Pancreatic Cancer: Is There a Magic Pill?

July 01, 2014

It’s known as “the silent disease.” The symptoms are hard to recognize, and they often go unnoticed for months or even years. This year alone, 46,000 people will be diagnosed with it—and nearly 40,000 will die because of it.

Pancreatic cancer is currently the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths among both men and women in the United States. Within the next few years, it is projected to become the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths. This is due to both an increase in the number of people who will develop pancreatic cancer and, unfortunately, the high rate of death associated with this disease.

Despite the amount of research that has been done on pancreatic cancer, we don’t yet know exactly how to prevent it. This is mainly because there are a number of factors that increase the risk for pancreatic cancer, but no “smoking gun” has been identified as the main cause.

Can Aspirin Reduce Your Risk for Pancreatic Cancer?

Recently, researchers at Yale University asked people who were enrolled in a study about their use of aspirin. Those who had pancreatic cancer were “matched” to people who were similar to them but did not have pancreatic cancer. All of the participants were then asked about their use of aspirin—and the results they found were quite interesting. The researchers discovered that people who regularly used aspirin actually had a lower risk of developing pancreatic cancer. This was found in people who used low doses—like a daily baby aspirin—as well as people who used regular doses at least a few times a week.

So, does this mean that we should all start taking a baby aspirin once a day? Most experts who were asked to comment on this study agreed that we should be careful about jumping to conclusions too soon, especially if we are going to start taking a medicine that could be harmful to our health. While aspirin may have some benefits, it can also increase your risk of bleeding, and it may lead to certain types of gastrointestinal problems. If you are thinking about taking a new medication—even if it’s aspirin—it is important to talk with your doctor prior to starting your new regimen.

While a low dose of aspirin may not be harmful for most of us, we should also keep in mind that it may not prevent cancer for all of us either. Why? The study at Yale may have found that aspirin use reduces the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, but other studies have not been so clear. When we look at all of the studies on aspirin use and cancer prevention, the overall effect of aspirin on cancer risk appears to be weaker than what was found in the study at Yale.

What Can You Do to Reduce Your Risk for Pancreatic Cancer?

So, if aspirin isn’t the magic pill that helps prevent pancreatic cancer, how can we do our best to avoid this disease? Well, the most important thing we can do is try to eliminate our risk factors, or the things that can increase our chance of developing pancreatic cancer.

For example, if you smoke or use tobacco products, it is important to stop as soon as possible. Smoking is one of the primary causes of cancer—and that includes pancreatic cancer. Stress reduction is also another key way to reduce your risk for cancer and other diseases.

You should also try to maintain a healthy weight in order to lower your risk for diabetes and pre-diabetes. Although we’re not entirely sure why, pancreatic cancer is more common among people who have type 2 diabetes, a disease that is often related to being overweight or obese. To reduce your risk for diabetes, be sure that you are incorporating moderate exercise into your daily routine. Not only is regular exercise important for cancer prevention, but it keeps your heart and lungs healthy too.

In addition to exercising, it is a good idea to adopt healthy eating habits. A diet low in sugar, fat and red meats can reduce your risk for a number of cancers, including pancreatic and colon cancer. You should also avoid processed meats and other foods, which are made with additives and other ingredients that can be harmful to our bodies.

Without a doubt, a healthy lifestyle is the most important prevention measure we can take to reduce our risk for cancer. You may have heard it a million times, but the effects of a healthy, balanced lifestyle will far outweigh aspirin or any other pill we could take.