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The staples of your medicine closet — aspirin, ibuprofen and other pain relievers — have been in the headlines a lot lately, and it's no surprise that many consumers are confused about how these pills can affect your body.

The latest news is about how taking low-dose aspirin may cut your risk of colon cancer, a leading cause of cancer deaths— in the United States. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions:

The aspirin-colon cancer link sounds intriguing, but where is this idea coming from?

A study published in the Sept. 1 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine used data from Danish databases to analyze the health histories of patients. Researchers compared 10,000 colon cancer patients diagnosed between 1994 and 2011 and between the ages of 30 and 85 with 100,000 cancer-free individuals and found that people who took low-dose aspirin or a class of medicine known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs regularly and for a long time had a much lower risk of colon cancer.

Those taking aspirin saw their risk drop by 27 percent and those on NSAIDs a 30 to 45 percent drop.

[FDA bolsters warning labels on NSAIDs]

My head is spinning. Did you say "low-dose aspirin or a class of medicine known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs regularly and for a long time"?  Can you break that down for me?

The researchers defined low dose as being 75 to 150 milligrams (for reference purposes, a standard round Bayer tablet is 325 milligrams) and long-term as five years or more. NSAIDs include over-the-counter brands like Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen) as well as prescription drugs like Celebrex (celecoxib). The drugs were taken "continuously," the researchers said, meaning every day or at least every other day.

Wait a minute -- I thought I heard something a few months ago NSAIDS and heart attack and stroke risk...

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration strengthened its requirements for warning labels on packages of the drugs after reviewing recent data about the use of the drug and finding that the risk of heart attack or stroke can increase even if people use NSAIDs only for a short time and within the first weeks of use.

So what do I do? I'm at higher risk for colon cancer because of my family history. 

The researchers emphasized that the risk-benefit analysis is very individual and that should talk to their family doctors or specialists before starting on a new drug regimen but that taking a low dose of aspirin or NSAIDs to try to reduce the risk of colon cancer might make sense for some people.

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