Prevention of gastrointestinal cancer--the potential role of NSAIDs in colorectal cancer

Schweiz Med Wochenschr. 1996 May 11;126(19):801-12.


Gastrointestinal cancers are among the leading sites of cancer and leading causes of cancer-related deaths. Gastrointestinal cancers are often at an advanced stage at the time of diagnosis, and are highly resistant to non-surgical therapy. Thus early diagnosis and prevention are approaches that are under active investigation. Screening and surveillance are considered secondary prevention. Primary prevention is the use of dietary or environmental modification or chemopreventive agents. This written review will emphasize the potential role of acetylsalicylic acid and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in the prevention of gastrointestinal cancer, and specifically colorectal cancer. Cell culture and animal studies have shown that NSAIDs possess anti-proliferative and anti-neoplastic effects. Recent epidemiologic surveys also suggest that individuals who regularly take NSAIDs, particularly acetylsalicylic acid, have about a 50% decrease in colorectal cancer incidence and mortality. However, in the only interventional trial of aspirin (and beta-carotene), a retrospective analysis had inadequate statistical power to demonstrate any protective effect against colorectal cancer. About a dozen small prospective intervention studies have been done in a total of about a hundred patients with familial adenomatous polyposis to test the efficacy of NSAIDs, particularly sulindac. All human trials have shown substantial partial and some complete regression of colorectal and perhaps also duodenal adenomatous polyps. But virtually all patients had regrowth of adenomatous polyps after sulindac was stopped. In addition, sulindac and other NSAIDs result in occasional adverse events such as gastrointestinal bleeding. Thus sulindac cannot be recommended for routine use outside of a study setting. One valid current approach to the prevention of gastrointestinal cancer, and colorectal cancer in particular, is the adoption of a healthy lifestyle and appropriate screening and surveillance. Screening and surveillance guidelines have been developed by several public agencies and their recommendations should be adopted. In addition, we should adopt a healthy lifestyle and diet, which consists of low fat ( < 30% to total calories), and high fiber (> 3 daily servings of fruits/vegetables), with the avoidance of red meats ( < 3 weekly servings) and alcohol ( < 2 drinks daily), and the absolute avoidance of tobacco smoking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenomatous Polyposis Coli / prevention & control
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Aspirin / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Sulindac / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors
  • Sulindac
  • Aspirin