Daily dose of aspirin 'can cut the risk of cancer', says study

Thousands of lives could be saved if people over 50 took a daily dose of the drug, experts say

Health Reporter

More than 6,000 lives could be saved a year if everyone in the UK between the ages of 50 and 65 took a daily aspirin to cut their risk of cancer, heart attack and stroke, new research has claimed.

In the latest evidence of the benefits of aspirin – one of the cheapest and most widely used drugs – experts said that taking a daily dose for 10 years could be “the most important thing we can do to reduce cancer after stopping smoking and reducing obesity”. 

Aspirin, which is already taken by many people to prevent heart attacks and strokes, has also been shown to reduce risk for a number of cancers, chiefly those of the digestive tract such as bowel cancer, stomach cancer and cancer of the oesophagus, or gullet. 

However, there have been concerns that side effects including stomach bleeding and ulcers may counteract any benefits, and the drugs are not currently recommended for otherwise healthy people as a form of cancer prevention.

Now, in a new analysis of hundreds of previous studies, scientists from Queen Mary University have been able to weigh up the likely benefits against the risks that would occur if millions more people were to take aspirin for 10 years, between the age of 50 and 65.

Deaths from bowel cancer could be cut by 40 per cent, oesophageal cancer by 50 per cent and stomach cancer by 35 per cent, they said.

Along with smaller reductions in the number of deaths caused by lung cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer, as well as known benefits in reducing rates of heart attack and certain types of stroke, the overall number of lives saved per year would total nearly 7,000. However, nearly 900 additional deaths would be caused by aspirin’s negative side effects.

The findings will reignite the debate over whether more patients should be taking aspirins, which can be bought over the counter in the UK, amid concerns that the medicalisation of society could discourage people from changing their lifestyles to prevent disease, and expose otherwise healthy people to dangerous side-effects.

Professor Jack Cuzick, who led the study, said that taking an aspirin was not an excuse for maintaining an unhealthy lifestyle and said patients should be consulting their GPs before embarking on a daily drug regime. However, he said that, overall, otherwise healthy 50-year-olds should consider aspirins “a good bet” to cut cancer risk.

“People don’t like taking medicines for a long time, but people are more than happy to take multivitamins for many, many years without any clear evidence of benefit in many cases. Here we have very clear evidence of benefit,” he said. “I take aspirin at bed time every day – I find I can achieve that compliance quite easily.”

Research is ongoing to determine which people are most likely to suffer side effects from aspirin. Smokers, those already taking blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin and people who carry the common bacteria helicobacter pylori are thought to be at greater risk.

The benefits of aspirin would be most pronounced in 50 to 65-year-olds because cancer risk increases as we get older, but the risks of side effects from aspirin predominately affect the over 70s. Benefits in reduced cancer deaths rates did not appear until people had taken aspirin for five years. Researchers said that the fact that benefits only accrued in the long-term explained why it had taken so long for scientists to determine the full potential of aspirin as a means of cancer prevention.

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said that aspirin was “showing promise” but said that questions remained over how big daily doses should be to maximise benefit and minimise harm, and said that tests were needed to understand who was likely to have side effects.

“Before aspirin can be recommended for cancer prevention some important questions need to be answered,” she said.

Q&A aspirin’s effects

Q. How does aspirin prevent cancer?

A. The exact mechanism isn’t fully understood. Aspirin’s main function is to reduce the risk of blood clots, which are formed by small cells in the blood called platelets. Platelets may also protect cancer cells in the body, and it is theorised that aspirin’s effect on them may hinder this process. However, more research is needed.

Q. What are the side effects?

A. Serious side effects to aspirin are rare, but it can cause ulcers and bleeding in the stomach. In very rare cases, it can cause bleeding on the brain, also known as a haemorrhagic stroke.

Q. Do these new findings mean that all over-50s should be taking aspirin?

A. Not necessarily, but they do improve the case of those arguing that they should. Anyone considering taking up a daily aspirin regime should consult their doctor first.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

    £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

    Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

    Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

    Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

    Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

    £25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?