The benefits of aspirin in combating heart disease has been well documented. The active ingredient in aspirin, salicylic acid, works to thin the blood by affecting its ability to clot. Now, however, a new study suggests that regular intake of aspirin may in fact reduce a person's risk of developing hereditary cancer, in some instances by as much as one half.

Hereditary cancer is cancer where a gene mutation is passed down from one generation to another. All cancers are caused by a mutation in a gene, but in most instances these gene mutations occur over time. Some people have these gene mutations when they are born, inheriting them from their parents. This puts them at a higher risk for cancer than most people.

The most common areas of the body affected by hereditary cancer are the bowel and womb. In the study in question, published in the journal The Lancet, researchers from 16 countries followed nearly 1000 patients over the course of 10 years. Scientists focused on a condition known as Lynch syndrome, an inherited disorder that can lead to colorectal cancer cases. Around 50% of the people with Lynch syndrome develop cancer in the bowels or womb.

The researchers observed that about 15% of the patients with Lynch syndrome who had been regularly taking aspirin developed cancer, compared to 30% of the patients who did not take aspirin, a 50% reduction in cancer incidence. Interestingly, the people who took aspirin still developed the same number of polyps, which are believed to be precursors to cancer, as people who did not take aspirin. This might suggest that aspirin delays the development of these cells sufficiently to allow for their destruction before they become fully cancerous. Furthermore, the effects of aspirin were not visible in the first five years of the study, but only after more than five years did the benefits become apparent.

More research needs to be done, but the initial implications of the findings are significant and open the door for further trials that can focus on dosage numbers and the benefits for the general population.

Lynch syndrome is also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). It mainly affects the digestive tract, especially the large intestine and rectum. In the United States, there are about 160,000 new cases of colorectal cancer cases diagnosed every year, and approximately 2% to 7% of these are attributed to Lynch syndrome.

If you have questions or concerns, speak with your physician. For more information about Lynch syndrome, visit the Genetics Home Reference, a service of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). To learn more about colorectal cancer, visit the website for the National Cancer Institute.