UK & World News
Daily Aspirin Pill 'Helps Prevent Cancer'
Taking a daily dose of aspirin could help ward off some types of cancer, according to a new study.
Researchers say that long-term use of the drug can significantly cut the chance of dying from gastrointestinal illnesses such as bowel and stomach cancer.
It is estimated that 130,357 cancer deaths could be prevented over two decades if everyone in the UK between 50 and 64 took the drug for 10 years.
However, widespread aspirin use could cause just under 18,000 deaths over the same time period, mainly due to internal bleeding and strokes.
Researchers from the Centre for Cancer Prevention at Queen Mary University of London pulled together data from more than 200 studies on the preventative use of aspirin.
Lead researcher Professor Jack Cuzick said he believed GPs should recommend healthy patients take a daily dose of the drug.
His team found bowel cancer incidence could be cut by 35%, and deaths by 40%, if people took aspirin for 10 years.
Stomach and oesophageal cancer were reduced by 30%, and deaths from these diseases by 35% and 50%.
But the effect on non-gastrointestinal cancers was less dramatic.
Lung and prostate cancer were reduced by 5% and 10%, and deaths from both by 15%. It also reduced breast cancer incidence by 10% and deaths by 5%.
Heart attack risk went down by 18%, but there was only a 5% dip in mortality rates.
Professor Cuzick said: "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."
The risks of daily aspirin use include a sharp increase in serious or fatal bleeding in the gut for people over 70, due to the drug's blood-thinning effect.
It also raised the risk of peptic ulcer by 30% to 60%, and the chances of dying from a stroke by 21%.
There is also no evidence that taking more than a low dose of 75-100 milligrams produces any greater benefit.
Professor Cuzick said anyone considering taking a daily aspirin dose should see their GP as some people are more susceptible to the potential negative effects.
Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information for Cancer Research UK, which co-funded the study, also sounded a note of caution.
She said: "Aspirin is showing promise in preventing certain types of cancer, but it's vital that we balance this with the complications it can cause."
Dr Sharp said the charity was planning a five-year study with 10,000 cancer patients to find out more about how best to use the drug.