Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors for primary prevention of colorectal cancer: a systematic review prepared for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

Ann Intern Med. 2007 Mar 6;146(5):376-89. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-146-5-200703060-00010.


Purpose: To examine the benefits and harms of nonaspirin (non-ASA) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and cyclooxygenase (COX-2) inhibitors for the prevention of colorectal cancer (CRC) and adenoma.

Data sources: MEDLINE (1966 to 2006), EMBASE (1980 to 2006), Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Collaboration's registry of clinical trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

Study selection: Randomized, controlled trials and case-control and cohort studies of the effectiveness of NSAIDs for the prevention of CRC and colorectal adenoma were identified by multilevel screening by 2 independent reviewers. Systematic reviews of harms were sought.

Data extraction: Data abstraction, checking, and quality assessment were completed in duplicate.

Data synthesis: A single cohort study showed no effect of non-ASA NSAIDs on death due to CRC. Colorectal cancer incidence was reduced with non-ASA NSAIDs in cohort studies (relative risk, 0.61 [95% CI, 0.48 to 0.77]) and case-control studies (relative risk, 0.70 [CI, 0.63 to 0.78]). Colorectal adenoma incidence was also reduced with non-ASA NSAID use in cohort studies (relative risk, 0.64 [CI, 0.48 to 0.85]) and case-control studies (relative risk, 0.54 [CI, 0.4 to 0.74]) and by COX-2 inhibitors in randomized, controlled trials (relative risk, 0.72 [CI, 0.68 to 0.77]). The ulcer complication rate associated with non-ASA NSAIDs is 1.5% per year. Compared with non-ASA NSAIDs, COX-2 inhibitors reduce this risk but, in multiyear use, have a higher ulcer complication rate than placebo. Cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors and nonnaproxen NSAIDs increase the risk for serious cardiovascular events (relative risk, 1.86 [CI, 1.33 to 2.59] for COX-2 inhibitors vs. placebo).

Limitations: Heterogeneity in the dose, duration and frequency of use necessitated careful grouping for analysis.

Conclusions: Cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors and NSAIDs reduce the incidence of colonic adenomas. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs also reduce the incidence of CRC. However, these agents are associated with important cardiovascular events and gastrointestinal harms. The balance of benefits to risk does not favor chemoprevention in average-risk individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma / prevention & control
  • Adult
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / chemically induced
  • Colonic Polyps / prevention & control
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / mortality
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Primary Prevention*
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors