EPA and Aspirin May Lower the Risk of Cancer

EPA and Aspirin May Lower the Risk of Cancer

Aspirin, also known as acetylsalicylic acid, along with omega-3 fatty acids tend to support various aspects of life. Scientists are still discovering the mechanisms via which these substances work. One recent study points out that both of these agents can significantly impact on the risk of colon cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the new cases of colon cancer in 2018 can rise as high as 140,250 only in the United States.

Colon cancer tends to develop from polyps. Polyps are the abnormal tissue growth occurring in the colon. While most of the polyps are benign, some of them may turn malignant leading to cancer.

It is a common practice by the doctors to use colonoscopy to detect the precancerous polyps. These colonoscopies are quite useful in detecting all visible abnormalities occurring in the large gut.

This new clinical trial is what the scientists call the seafood Trial. In this study, the specialists from different universities collaborated from various institutes to make some intriguing findings. Some of these universities include the ones in Leeds, Bradford, Nottingham, and Newcastle.

The main purpose of this study was to check if any widely available drug works to reduce the number of precancerous colonic polyps in people at a high risk of colon cancer.

The scientists utilized two of the most commonly available drugs for this purpose. One of them was aspirin and the other was eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), one of the primary fatty acids present in omega-3.

To read the findings of this research published in a journal named The Lancet, click here.

What is Aspirin and What are its Uses?

Aspirin is a type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) which possesses the following effects:

  • Antipyretic: helps reduce fever
  • Analgesic: relieves pain without loss of consciousness of anesthesia
  • Anti-inflammatory: reduces inflammation especially in high doses

The chemical composition of aspirin includes salicylic acid which is often used to reduce fever and get rid of mild to moderate pain resulting from problems like common cold, toothaches, headaches, and muscle aches. It also helps reduce swelling and pain due to problems like arthritis.

What is EPA and What is it Used for?

Eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA refers to a type of fatty acid present in the flesh of cold water fish. Some of the common examples of cold water fish carrying EPA include tuna, herring, mackerel, salmon, halibut, seal blubber, whale blubber, and cod liver.

EPA works by preventing the blood from clotting. It also carries anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce body pains.

In combination with L-arginine after surgical procedures to increase the risk of infection. It also improves wound healing and reduces the recovery time.

In combination with another fatty acid called gamma-linolenic acid, EPA is also used to treat high blood pressure.

What are Colonic Polyps?

Colonic polyps, also called as the colorectal polyps, refer to the outgrowths appearing at the surface of the colon. The colon, or the large gut, is a hollow tube present at the end of the digestive tract. It is the site where your body produces fecal material.

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Polys come in different sizes and number. Overall speaking, there are three different types of polyps:

  • Hyperplastic polyps: these polyps are generally harmless and do not progress to malignant conditions
  • Adenomatous polyps: these polys are the most common ones. Despite the fact that they never transform into cancer, adenomatous polyps do carry a potential to develop into colon cancer
  • Malignant polyps: these polyps show cancer cells under the microscopic examination

The exact cause of polyps is not known. However, the scientists are sure that these polys occur due to abnormalities in the tissue growth.

The body tends to periodically develop new healthy cells in order to replace the old, worn out cells which are no longer functional. This growth and division of all the news cells are well-regulated.

However, in certain cases, new cells start growing and dividing when they are actually not needed. This excess growth of cells leads to polyp formation at any area of your colon.

Benefits of Aspirin and the EPA Therapy

The researchers included 709 participants from 53 different hospitals across England. All of these individuals were suffering from a high risk of colon cancer.

The research team then split the participants into four different treatment groups. One of these groups were to receive aspirin treatment only while other was provided with EPA.

The third group received a combination of EPA and aspirin whereas the final group was the placebo group.

The aspirin-only group used 300 milligrams of aspirin tablet every single day for an entire year. The people in the EPA group used 2 grams of EPA in the form of 4 capsules for an equivalent amount of time.

Note that the dose of EPA these participants used was higher than the amount present in the usual omega-3 supplements.

EPA and Aspirin May Lower the Risk of Cancer
Image by NBC News

The participants who used aspirin for one year suffered from 22 percent lesser polyps than the placebo group. This result included the right side of their large gut which is often difficult to visualize even with colonoscopy.

The group utilizing EPA had a 9 percent lesser occurrence of polyps compared to the individuals in the placebo group. However, this result was not statistically significant.

An interesting result emerged in the case of EPA users, however. These users had a 25 percent lesser polyps on the left side of their large gut.

What the Scientists Say

The researchers belonging to the University of Leeds agreed with the results of this trials. They said that the seafood Trial successfully demonstrated how both EPA and aspirin exhibit protective effects.

These results are exciting especially due to the fact that these agents are extremely cheap with a high safety index.

After the emergence of this new evidence, the clinicians must start considering both aspirin and EPA. This must especially be remembered for patients who have an increased risk of bowel cancer. The treatment can be considered in combination with the regular surveillance via colonoscopy.

The researchers also say that taking EPA and aspirin proved to be safe in the given study. There was no increase in the risk of bleeding in any of the participants. However, a small increase in stomach-related problems was reported by people consuming EPA-only treatment.

Moving forward, the specialists are aiming to carry out further research into this topic. They aspire to dig further regarding the role of aspirin in lowering the risk of cancer.



Nancy holds a Pharmacy degree from University of Michigan and Masters of Science MS in Infectious Disease and Global Health (MS-IDGH) from Tufts University. She worked as a lecturer for three years before she turned towards medical writing. Her area of interest are infectious diseases; causes, mechanism, diagnosis, treatments and prevention strategies. Most of her writings ensure an easy understanding of uncommon diseases.

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