Why You Should Avoid Taking Aspirin to Prevent Cancer – And Two Pills You Should Take Instead

Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD
August 10, 2018


Every few years, we see a wave of news stories pushing aspirin for one ailment or another. Cancer is one of the most popular. One study published a few years ago indicated that people who take aspirin every day reduce their risk of cancer by 21%. That is an amazing statistic! And it seems like an easy, inexpensive thing to do, with very little risk. But should you take aspirin to prevent cancer? Here are my thoughts on why that may not be such a good idea – and what you can do instead….

Researchers conducted this study to settle a discrepancy in the research. Several studies had shown that taking aspirin every day for more than five years reduced the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Animal studies also have confirmed that aspirin has a cancer-preventing effect.

Another study, however, showed a different result. In this case, the Women’s Health Study followed a huge number of women. The researchers studied the effect of aspirin on 40,000 women for 10 years. Half the women received 100 mg of aspirin every other day, and the other half received a placebo. They found that aspirin showed no effect at all. In other words, this massive study says aspirin doesn’t prevent cancer in any way.

So what’s the right answer? Does aspirin prevent cancer or not? To help settle the issue researchers at the University of Oxford conducted this meta study.

They reviewed the data of every published placebo-controlled trial of four years or longer that looked at the effect of aspirin on cancer prevention. Eight of the trials included a total of 25,570 men and women. When the researchers broke down the data to individual patients, they figured out what was going on.

First, in order for aspirin to have its effect, you have to take it for at least five years. And, second, unlike they did in the Women’s Health Study, you have to take it every day. The researchers also noted that there was no additional benefit to taking more than 75 mg of aspirin per day.

In the end, the people taking aspirin in these trials were 21% less likely to have died from cancer. So does that mean it’s a good idea to take 75 mg of aspirin a day to prevent cancer?

Animal studies indicate that the reason aspirin is effective in preventing some cancers is because it inhibits the pro-inflammatory enzyme cyclo-oxygenase. I routinely test all of my cancer patients to determine if their cancers are susceptible to this inhibition. And more often than not, they are. So aspirin would be a good choice for therapy in these patients. That is if it were not for the side effects of taking aspirin on a regular basis.

One study published a few years ago looked at people who were taking low-dose aspirin as a preventive strategy for heart disease. The researchers performed an endoscopy (a tube with a camera that goes down the throat into the stomach) on the patients and found that 11% had ulcers. This was true even though none of them had any symptoms suggesting ulcers. That study shows us that if you take low-dose aspirin, such as the 75 mg recommended by the meta study, the odds are one-in-ten that you will have an ulcer even though you don’t have any symptoms.

In another similar trial, people taking low-dose aspirin were close to three times more likely to have a major bleeding episode from an ulcer than those taking the placebo.

I think these odds are scary. In fact, that’s the same conclusion that most of the researchers in this area come to: aspirin prevents cancer, but the dangers counter its benefits.

So, what other choices besides aspirin might also prevent cancer? There are two nutrients you can take to accomplish the same thing as aspirin, without the side effects.

Two-Nutrient Combination Prevents Cancer as Well as Aspirin

The combination consists of two natural remedies — fish oil and curcumin. Each of these remedies has one thing in common, they both inhibit cyclo-oxygenase. This is the pro-inflammatory enzyme that contributes to some cancers. It’s also the enzyme aspirin inhibits, giving it the ability to prevent cancer. These two remedies can do the same thing. And yet like most natural remedies, they are able to do this in a natural way that does not cause side effects like ulcer formation. Here’s what you can do.

Fish Oil Prevents and Fights Cancer

Every morning start the day by taking two capsules of fish oil, and another one in the afternoon (up to 1,000 mg daily). Researchers have proven that the fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) will prevent cancer. And your best source of EPA and DHA is in fish oil. We know that fish oil works particularly well against colon, breast, and prostate cancers.

In one study, for instance, researchers found that fish oil can cut your risk of colorectal cancer. The Physicians Health Study followed 21,406 men for 22 years. That’s a huge study and the results are highly significant. Those in the highest category of fish consumption (five times per week) had a 40% reduced risk of colorectal cancer compared to those eating fish less than once per week. Those with the highest intake of omega-3 fatty acids were also less at risk of colorectal cancers (by 25%).

Newer research suggests that fish oil has profound anti-cancer capabilities in patients who already have cancer! These studies show that EPA and DHA reduce the inflammation associated with cancer. And they also act to slow cancer growth and spread.

One of the most powerful aspects of fish oil is that it's anti-angiogenic. This means it inhibits the growth of the new blood vessels. Cancers must have an ever increasing supply of blood in order to survive. And they use the process of angiogenesis to cause the body to grow new blood vessels to service them.

Tumors manufacture special messenger molecules called angiogenic mediators to kick-start angiogenesis. Then they release these molecules into the surrounding tissues where they stimulate the body to create the much needed new blood vessels. The European Journal of Cancer published a review article with details on how EPA and DHA inhibit these angiogenesis mediators.

I've treated many cases of cancer. And I can tell you that inhibiting these angiogenic mediators is often a critical aspect of successfully controlling cancer.

For example, one of the most effective ways to treat colon and rectal cancers is with a drug called bevacizumab (Avastin). Bevacizumab works by blocking the effects of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF), one of the angiogenic mediators that fish oil also blocks.

Another drug, imatinib (known as Gleevec), is often effective in treating certain leukemias and gastrointestinal cancers. Imatinib is a potent inhibitor of Platelet-Derived Growth Factor (PDGF), again one of the mediators that fish oil blocks.

Another effective class of drugs that reduce the chance of getting cancer, particularly colon cancer, is the COX-2 inhibitors. Examples of COX-2 inhibitors are aspirin and ibuprofen. One COX-2 inhibitor, rofecoxib (you know it as Vioxx), causes cardiac death in some patients. Once again, the studies show that EPA and DHA are natural COX-2 inhibitors that have no side effects, plus they have all of the other additional anti-angiogenic properties mentioned above.

Finally, one of the serious risks that many cancer patients face is the risk of life-threatening blood clots. EPA and DHA are also potent inhibitors of blood clots. They do this by inhibiting both the activation and the aggregation of platelets. Platelets are blood components that are often over-activated in cancer patients. They are responsible for the increased blood-clot risk.

Whether you already have cancer or you simply want to prevent it, there's probably nothing you can take that would be more effective than a good dose of EPA and DHA.

The Second Pill Is Curcumin

Next, take plenty of curcumin – at least 500 mg of an extract that is standardized for at least 90% curcuminoids. Here’s why: It dramatically slows the growth of cancer cells. If you already have cancer, it can help slow down its growth. If you don’t have cancer, it can help keep you healthy.

We’ve known for several hundred years that curcumin has anti-cancer properties. This chemical found in the spice turmeric has been healing and preventing various diseases for centuries. But until recently, we didn’t know how it helps fight cancer. New research sheds light on this – and lets us harness the spice more effectively.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have been studying curcumin and cancer on an atomic level. They’ve been using technology called x-ray crystallography and kinase-inhibitor specificity profiling. This helps them see how curcumin interacts with enzymes.

It turns out that curcumin can bind to an enzyme called DYRK2. And when it does this, it keeps DYRK2 from working properly. This is actually good news. That’s because DYRK2 contributes to cell proliferation – or cancer.

In fact, it turns out that curcumin is 500 times more effective at inhibiting DYRK2 than the other enzymes known to do this. And when DYRK2 is inhibited, other anti-cancer therapies can work even more effectively.

The researchers believe that inhibiting DYRK2 could be particularly promising for treating triple-negative breast cancer and multiple myeloma. These cancers are notoriously difficult to address.

In mouse models, inhibiting DYRK2 slowed cancer growth and reduced tumors. And combining curcumin with a cancer drug led to much higher cancer cell death. This combo also caused fewer issues for healthy cells. The researchers believe curcumin could be a great way to increase efficacy and decrease side effects of cancer drugs in the future.

Taking curcumin with fish oil can give you all the benefits of aspirin without any of the side effects. They are a great way to help ensure your cell growth never gets out of control. After all, that’s all cancer is. And if you do have cancer, fish oil and curcumin can help stop it in its tracks.


Rothwell PM, Fowkes FG, Belch JF, Ogawa H, Warlow CP, Meade TW. Effect of daily aspirin on long-term risk of death due to cancer: analysis of individual patient data from randomized trials. Lancet. 2011 Jan 1;377(9759):31-41. Epub 2010 Dec 6.

Yeomans ND, Lanas AI, Talley NJ, et al. Prevalence and incidence of gastroduodenal ulcers during treatment with vascular protective doses of aspirin. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2005;22:795-801.

Baigent C, Blackwell L, et al. Aspirin in the primary and secondary prevention of vascular disease: collaborative meta-analysis of individual participant data from randomised trials. Lancet. 2009;373:1849-1860.

Lanas A, Scheiman J. Low-dose aspirin and upper gastrointestinal damage: epidemiology, prevention and treatment. Curr Med Res Opin. 2007;23:163-173.

Spencer L, Mann C, Metcalfe M, et al.ÿ The effect of omega-3 FAs on tumour angiogenesis and their therapeutic potential. Eur J Cancer. 2009 August;45(12):2077-86. Epub 2009 June 1.

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, 2008; 17(5)




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