6 Aug 2014

An aspirin a day, can keep cancer away?

Healthy people should be encouraged to take a daily dose of aspirin to ward off cancer, says a detailed new study highlighting the benefits of the household drug.

The research study found that long-term use of aspirin significantly reduces the risk of developing major cancers, mostly affecting the digestive tract, and dying from them.

An estimated 130,357 cancer deaths could be avoided over two decades, if everyone in the UK aged between 50 to 64 took aspirin for 10 years, the study found, and a further 9,473 fatal heart attacks would also be prevented.

Other side effects of the common drug, such as the risk of internal bleeding and strokes, were examined for their potential to offset the benefits, and the study found that that 18,000 could die from these complications over 20 years.

But on balance, lead researcher Professor Jack Cuzick, head of Queen Mary, University of London’s Centre for Cancer Prevention, said that his study suggested that aspirin should still be recommended.

Taking aspirin daily looks to be the most important thing we can do to reduce cancer after stopping smoking and reducing obesity Professor Jack Cuzick

He revealed that he took a daily low-dose aspirin pill every day “as part of a bedtime ritual”, and said that while he would stop short of urging GPs to prescribe aspirin to healthy patients, he added: “I think they should recommend it.”

Anyone considering taking a daily dose of aspirin are still advised to speak to their GP first.

The research, published in the journal Annals of Oncology, pulled together all the available data from reviews and clinical trials looking at both the good and bad effects of preventative use of aspirin and covered more than 200 clinical trials and other studies.

Overall, rates of serious or fatal bleeding in the stomach due to the blood-thinning effects of aspirin were very low under the age of 70, but the study found that it increased sharply after that age.

Prof Cuzick’s team found that taking the drug for 10 years could:

  • cut bowel cancer incidence by 35 per cent and deaths by 40 per cent
  • reduce incidence of stomach cancer by 30 per cent and deaths by 35 per cent
  • reduce oesophageal cancer by 30 per cent, and deaths by 50 per cent
  • cut lung cancer by 5 per cent and deaths by 15 per cent
  • cut prostate cancer by 10 per cent and deaths by 15 per cent
  • reduce breast cancer by 10 per cent and mortality by 5 per cent

Prof Cuzick said: “It has long been known that aspirin – one of the cheapest and most common drugs on the market – can protect against certain types of cancer. But until our study, where we analysed all the available evidence, it was unclear whether the pros of taking aspirin outweighed the cons.

“Whilst there are some serious side effects that can’t be ignored, taking aspirin daily looks to be the most important thing we can do to reduce cancer after stopping smoking and reducing obesity, and will probably be much easier to implement.”