3 New Findings in Cancer Prevention: Aspirin’s Role, Tackling Tobacco, and Liver Protection

gloved hand holding hepatitis c positive blood sample

February is National Cancer Prevention Month, a time for all of us to learn about and focus on the lifestyle choices that can help reduce our risk of getting cancer. It’s also a great opportunity to highlight cancer prevention research being done at the American Cancer Society. These three studies published in 2015 explore intriguing new paths to preventing some forms of cancer. 

1. Aspirin’s Role in Colorectal Cancer Prevention

Studies suggest that aspirin use can lower the risk of colorectal cancer, but it also comes with potentially serious side effects, including gastrointestinal bleeding. In a large, multi-institution study, researchers including Eric Jacobs, PhD, strategic director of pharmacoepidemiology at the American Cancer Society, explored the role of genetic factors to better understand who might benefit most from the drug. The researchers found that aspirin use was linked with lower colorectal cancer risk overall. However, aspirin was not associated with lower risk in people with variants in certain genes.

Bottom line: This study paves the way towards using an individual’s genetic information to help make more personalized and better decisions about aspirin use for potential colorectal cancer prevention.

2. Fighting the Global Tobacco Epidemic

Without effective policies, tobacco-related deaths could reach 1 billion in the 21st century, according to The Tobacco Atlas. Low- and middle-income countries are most affected, consuming more than 80% of all tobacco products. A recent study exposes how the tobacco industry actively targets both smokers and non-smokers in these countries, and how it works to prevent the implementation of non-smoking policies. “Our research also provides concrete examples of governments successfully confronting the industry,” says study co-author Jeffrey Drope, PhD, vice president of economic and health policy research at the American Cancer Society.

Bottom line: Exposing and addressing the tobacco industry’s misconduct in low- and middle-income countries can help prevent tobacco-related diseases, including cancer.

3. Liver Cancer Prevention in Baby Boomers

Infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), a major risk factor for liver cancer, can often be cured with medications. However, the majority of infected individuals in the US, 81% of whom are baby boomers, aren’t aware they have it. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control in 2012 recommended one-time HCV testing for them. Recently, American Cancer Society researchers Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, and Stacey Fedewa, MPH, analyzed the 2013 National Health Interview Survey and found that only 12.3% of baby boomers reported ever getting tested for HCV infection. This is the first nationwide estimate of HCV testing in the high-risk population born 1945-1965.

Bottom line: More testing can lead to more diagnosis and treatment of an infection linked with liver cancer. Knowing current HCV testing prevalence can help inform future public health messages.

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