The pill for almost every ill:

The pill for almost every ill: aspirin cuts risk of cancers

It is not yet a panacea for all ills, but it is getting close. Yesterday, researchers announced the first proof that aspirin can cut the risk of a range of cancers by up to 50 per cent.

It is already taken by millions to protect against heart attacks and strokes and has an established role in preventing diabetes, dementia, pregnancy complications and pain. Scientists stopped short of recommending it be added to the water supply but declared it was "the most amazing drug".

The latest positive findings on cancer had shifted the balance in favour of mass medication of the population, but it was still too soon to recommend everyone take it, they said.

The study of eight trials involving 25,000 patients taking a low daily dose of aspirin to ward off heart disease found the humble drug reduced deaths due to all cancers by more than a fifth (21 per cent).

If a new medicine were launched tomorrow with a similar sized effect it would be hailed as a miracle cure. But instead of being priced at tens of thousands of pounds a head, aspirin costs 1p a tablet.

After five years on the drug, cancer death rates fell further – by a third overall and by half (54 per cent) for cancers of the digestive tract (including oesophagus, stomach and the bowel).

The benefit did not improve with higher doses of aspirin but increased the longer it was taken. It was also greater in older people because of the higher incidence of cancer. Over 20 years, the reduction in risk ranged from 10 per cent for prostate cancer to 60 per cent for oesophageal cancer.

The findings, published in The Lancet, follow an earlier report in the journal last October showing that low doses of aspirin cut the risk of bowel cancer by a third.

Peter Rothwell, Professor of neurology at the University of Oxford, who led both studies, said the benefit of taking aspirin was consistent across all the trials, "suggesting that the findings are likely to be generalisable".



He takes a daily aspirin himself but advised others against doing so, except with the advice of their GP.

"These results do not mean that all adults should immediately start taking aspirin, but they do demonstrate major new benefits that have not been previously factored into guideline recommendations."

The problem with aspirin is that in a small number of people it is an irritant to the stomach causing indigestion, nausea and sometimes bleeding. Thousands of people end up in hospital every year with bleeding and ulcers caused by aspirin and similar painkillers. The risk, though small, has to be set against the likely benefit and has prevented its wider use.

It cuts the risk of heart disease and stroke and has been prescribed for decades to people who have had one heart attack in order to prevent a second. But because of the bleeding risk it is not recommended as a preventive measure against a first heart attack.

With the added benefit against cancer, the balance may now need to be reassessed. Professor Rothwell said: "Previous guidelines have rightly cautioned that in healthy middle-aged people the small risk of bleeding on aspirin partly offsets the benefit from prevention of strokes and heart attacks, but the reductions in deaths due to several common cancers will now alter the balance for many people."

Aspirin thins the blood making it harder to form clots which could cause a heart attack or stroke, providing protection against these conditions. Its impact on cancer is less well understood. As an anti-inflammatory, it may curb the spread of the disease by reducing inflammation, which is a key factor in cancer development.

A further theory is that an aspirin helps replace a missing constituent from our diet. Plant salicylates, similar to the active ingredient in aspirin, have reduced since we started growing crops with pesticides and fertilisers. The daily pill may help restore the body's natural balance.

If people are going to take a low dose 75mg daily aspirin, to gain the maximum lifetime benefit they should start in their late 40s or early 50s and continue for 20 to 30 years, Professor Rothwell said. After five to ten years the results suggest overall deaths from all causes (including internal bleeds) would be 10 per cent lower, and the benefit would grow as the years advanced.

Previous studies suggest aspirin also protects against breast cancer, but the researchers said more data was required to confirm this and its effect in other cancers of women. Further work was also necessary to identify any late worsening of cancer deaths beyond 20 years. Professor Rothwell said: "Perhaps the most important finding is the proof of principle that cancers can be prevented by simple compounds like aspirin. Chemoprevention [for cancer] is a realistic goal."

The conditions aspirin treats

* Arthritis

* Bladder cancer

* Bowel cancer

* Brain cancer

* Breast cancer

* Dementia

* Diabetes

* Fevers

* Gum disease

* Headaches

* Heart disease

* Lung cancer

* Migraines

* Oesophageal cancer

* Pain

* Pancreatic cancer

* Pre-eclampsia

* Prostate cancer

* Stomach cancer

* Strokes

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Performance Consultant Trainee

    £22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Consultant trainee opportunit...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - (Full marketing mix) - Knutsford

    £22000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Knu...

    Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

    Day In a Page

    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
    Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

    Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

    A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
    Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

    Election 2015

    Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
    Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

    Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

    The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
    The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

    The US is getting frayed at the edges

    Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
    Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

    New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

    A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
    Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

    British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

    Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
    Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

    Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

    Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
    Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

    Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

    He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
    How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

    Celebrating 100 years of Leica

    A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world