A study has found that taking an aspirin a day could significantly reduce the risk of developing and dying from bowel, stomach and oesophageal cancer.
A team led by Professor Jack Cuzick, head of the centre for cancer prevention at Queen Mary University of London, conducted the research, which involved analysing evidence from studies and clinical trials to assess both the benefits and risks associated with taking aspirin to prevent cancer.
Currently there are two theories regarding how aspirin prevents cancer:
1. Aspirin reduces inflammation, which lowers the risk of cancerous cells developing in the body (inflammation causes cells to divide which increases the risk of mutation)
2. 2. Cancer cells can attach to blood platelets, which help the blood to clot. As aspirin thins blood by making platelets less sticky, it may also make it harder for them to carry cancer cells and spread the disease.
The study concluded that taking aspirin for 10 years could cut bowel cancer cases by approximately 35% and deaths by 40%. While rates of oesophageal and stomach cancer were cut by 30% and deaths by 35-50%.
Aspirin was also found to have a smaller preventive effect on other major cancers, reducing the number of lung cancers by 5% and deaths by 15%. It could also cut prostate cancers by 10% and deaths by 15%, and breast cancers by 10%, with a reduction in deaths of 5%.
The researchers say that to reap the benefits of aspirin, people need to take a daily dose of 75 to 100 milligrams for at least 5 years and most likely up to 10 years between the ages of 50 – 65. “Our study shows that if everyone aged between 50 and 65 started taking aspirin daily for at least 10 years, there would be a [relative] 9 per cent reduction in the number of cancers, strokes and heart attacks overall in men, and around 7 per cent in women,” says Cuzick.
No benefit was found in taking aspirin for the first three years and death rates were only reduced after 5 years.
Cuzick said that taking aspirin “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”.
While there are certainly complications associated with taking aspirin, particularly over a long period of time, including stomach bleeds (which can be fatal) and strokes, Cuzick believes that the benefits outweigh the risks.
“My personal advice would be that everyone 50 to 64 should consider taking aspirin. You should talk to your GP first to see if you’ve got any of the major risk factors for bleeding, but if not I think the benefits substantially outweigh the risk,” said Cuzick.