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Now Praised, Aspirin Was Vilified by Vioxx Marketing

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It has only been six years since the COX-2 specific inhibitor Vioxx was billed as a super aspirin that didn't have aspirin's "risks" by Merck. Widely advertised and pitched by Olympians Dorothy Hamill and Bruce Jenner, Vioxx turned out to double the risk of heart attack and was withdrawn from the market in 2004.

27,785 patients suffered heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths on Vioxx, according to the FDA. Merck was also accused of concealing "critical data on an array of adverse cardiovascular events," by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Bextra, a COX-2 specific inhibitor similar to Vioxx, was also withdrawn for similar reasons in 2005. In fact, patients taking Bextra after heart surgery were 2.19 times more likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack according to American Heart Association information. And last year Pfizer agreed to pay $2.3 billion for fraudulent marketing of Bextra and three other drugs. Not million, billion.

aspirin

This week a meta-analysis in Lancet, the British medical weekly, reveals that common aspirin may reduce the chances of dying of several cancers. People who took a daily aspirin for more than four years reduced their chances of dying of cancer by 21 percent according to the data published this week. And, the longer they took the aspirin - up to twenty years - the greater their cancer risk reduction, said researchers.

Many Americans over 45 already take a daily, low-dose aspirin to protect against cardiovascular events and stroke.

While aspirin's ability to lower colon cancer risk was known, esophageal, gastrointestinal, lung, brain, and pancreatic cancers dropped in the population of patients studied who ere taking daily aspirin said researchers.

The trials were conducted to explore the vascular effects of a daily aspirin on patients but the authors found the risk of esophageal and throat cancer was reduced by 60 percent, colorectal cancer by 40 percent, lung cancer by 30 percent and prostate cancer by 10 percent.

In fact, aspirin's ability to reduce cardiovascular events and stroke and now cancer make it a candidate for long term health maintenance say doctors despite its stomach and intestinal bleeding risks. It may be better than certain screenings at reducing cancer, write the scientists.

This week the medical press also trumpeted the news of a possible new indication for Celebrex, a third COX-2 specific inhibitor that was not withdrawn from the market. Celebrex is widely promoted as a pain reliever regardless of the risks belonging to the class of drugs and the fact that 21 of Celebrex' original pain studies relied on fraudulent data fabricated by Dr. Scott S. Reuben, former chief of acute pain at Baystate Medical Center and a paid Pfizer spokesman.

Celebrex may be useful in preventing skin cancer said the news stories though "cardiovascular risk may not make it a long-term strategy," according to HealthDay. Say that.

Idaho patient Marilyn H., a retired X-ray technician, told a reporter that Celebrex' blood-related side effects caused her knee replacement bone graft to become necrotic. Canadian Timothy Moorley says a toe and finger had to be amputated on Celebrex in addition to major vascular leg surgery. He is only in his thirties. And Marilyn A., 65, of Chicago suffered a heart attack on Celebrex in 2008 though she had no risk factors. Her physician suspects Celebrex.

It is just a matter of time before Celebrex is withdrawn from the market like the expensive and dangerous COX-2 specific inhibitors Bextra and Vioxx, say doctors and drug safety professionals. In addition to its heart perks, it is linked to stomach bleeding and kidney and liver problems.

Meanwhile, lowly aspirin, called inferior to the COX-2 specific inhibitors, helps instead of hurts the heart - at the same time it lowers cancer risks. And the price is right.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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