NEW YORK - Women who took aspirin and vitamin E in separate studies of cancer and heart disease prevention experienced no benefits, while a third analysis revealed that aspirin might lower the risk of prostate cancer in men, researchers will report today.
In the scientific papers published in two journals, a key theme, on first blush, seems to be aspirin's stark differences between the genders. But scientists downplayed that difference yesterday and underscored that much remains to be learned about cancer prevention - and aspirin dosage.
A 10-year study of nearly 40,000 women, half of whom took 100 milligrams of aspirin every other day and half a placebo, found aspirin staved off neither colorectal nor breast cancer, two major killers.
The tablets were also ineffective against a host of other cancers that ranged from pancreatic and stomach cancers to those of the uterus, ovary and brain. Researchers did find that the 100-milligram dose - slightly higher than a baby aspirin - taken every other day conferred mild protection against lung cancer. However, they recommend further study to clarify that finding.
"We still have an unclear story," said Dr. Julie Buring, principal investigator of the Women's Health Study, and a professor of medicine at Harvard University. The study examined the effects of aspirin in healthy women who were at least 45 years old.
Even though numerous smaller studies have found that aspirin and other drugs like it can ward off cancer, a particularly low dose such as the one taken by women in the study, was originally prescribed to fight heart disease, Buring said.
Buring advised that women not take low-dose aspirin in the hope of preventing cancer. Another team of Harvard researchers earlier this year said women under 65 should not take the tablets to prevent heart disease and strokes. Both teams emphasize healthy diets and exercise.
In a separate study, Buring found that vitamin E wards off neither heart disease nor cancer.
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