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Q. My husband takes a daily aspirin to lower his risk for various diseases, but I have heard aspirin doesn't help women as much. True?
Dr. Marianne J. Legato: The best information on aspirin's benefits for women is from the Harvard Nurses' Health Study, which closely followed for three decades nearly 80,000 women with no history of cardiovascular disease or cancer. It found that taking a daily aspirin lowers the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, including stroke, and certain cancers -- especially colorectal -- in women, particularly those 65 and older.
You don't gain all these benefits right away. Protection from cardiovascular disease occurs after five years of daily aspirin use, while protection from cancer-related deaths isn't apparent until after 10 years. Only after 20 years does a modest protection from breast and lung cancer occur.
One to two 325-milligram aspirin tablets per week is fine. If you smoke, don't expect aspirin to protect you from lung cancer; any positive effect on lung-cancer risk is confined to those who have never smoked or quit.
Aspirin can cause bleeding in some people, so if you take even two tablets per week, get checked annually for blood in your stool. If you have a disorder like a low platelet count or take medicine to prevent clotting (like Coumadin), aspirin isn't for you.
Dr. Marianne J. Legato is the medical advisor to Ladies' Home Journal and the founder and director of the Parternship for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University in New York City.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, November 2007.