Daily aspirin 'prevents and possibly treats cancer'


Report author Professor Peter Rothwell: "There are risks of aspirin as well as benefits"

Related Stories

Taking a low dose of aspirin every day can prevent and possibly even treat cancer, fresh evidence suggests.

The three new studies published by The Lancet add to mounting evidence of the drug's anti-cancer effects.

Many people already take daily aspirin as a heart drug.

But experts warn that there is still not enough proof to recommend it to prevent cancer cases and deaths and warn that the drug can cause dangerous side effects like stomach bleeds.

Prof Peter Rothwell, from Oxford University, and colleagues, who carried out the latest work, had already linked aspirin with a lower risk of certain cancers, particularly bowel cancer.

But their previous work suggested people needed to take the drug for about 10 years to get any protection.

Now the same experts believe the protective effect occurs much sooner - within three to five years - based on a new analysis of data from 51 trials involving more than 77,000 patients.


  • Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) has been used for many years as a painkiller. It has an anti-inflammatory action
  • Low-dose (75mg) aspirin is already recommended for people with known cardiovascular disease to prevent stroke and heart attack
  • The benefits for healthy people are still unclear
  • Aspirin can cause fatal internal bleeding, although this is relatively rare

And aspirin appears not only to reduce the risk of developing many different cancers in the first place, but may also stop cancers spreading around the body.

The trials were designed to compare aspirin with no treatment for the prevention of heart disease.

But when Prof Rothwell's team examined how many of the participants developed and died from cancer, they found this was also related to aspirin use.

Halting cancer spread

Taking a low (75-300mg) daily dose of the drug appeared to cut the total number of cancer cases by about a quarter after only three years - there were nine cancer cases per 1,000 each year in the aspirin-taking group, compared with 12 per 1,000 for those taking dummy pills.

It also reduced the risk of a cancer death by 15% within five years (and sooner if the dose was higher than 300mg)

And if patients stayed on aspirin for longer, their cancer death risk went down even further - by 37% after five years.

Low-dose aspirin also appeared to reduce the likelihood that cancers, particularly bowel, would spread (metastasise) to other parts of the body, and by as much as half in some instances.

In absolute numbers, this could mean for every five patients treated with aspirin one metastatic cancer would be prevented, the researchers estimate.

At the same time, aspirin cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes, but it also increased the risk of a major bleed.

However this elevated bleeding risk was only seen in the first few years of aspirin therapy and decreased after that.

Critics point out that some of the doses given in the study were much higher than the 75mg dose typically given in the UK. Also, some very large US studies looking at aspirin use were not included in the analysis. The researchers acknowledge both of these points in their published papers.

Prof Rothwell says for most fit and healthy people, the most important things they can do to reduce their lifetime cancer risk is to give up smoking, take exercise and have a healthy diet.

After that aspirin does seem to reduce the risk further - only by a small amount if there is no risk factor, but if there is a family history for something like colorectal cancer, it tips the balance in favour of aspirin, he said.

Prof Peter Johnson, of Cancer Research UK, said it was still a good idea for people thinking of taking aspirin to discuss it with their GP because of the possible side effects.

But he said the work was exciting and suggested aspirin might be beneficial for treating and preventing cancer, which is something the charity is exploring in its own research.

"We now need some definitive advice from the government as to whether aspirin should be recommended more widely," he said.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which issues treatment guidelines for the NHS, has not yet been asked by the government to look at the topic but a spokesman for the Department of Health said they were considering how best to advise the public about the benefits and risks of aspirin.

Meanwhile, the leader of an ongoing UK trial looking at cancers of the gastrointestinal tract said their results - as yet unpublished - suggested no preventative effect of aspirin after following patients for several years.

Professor Janusz Jankowski of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry said: "So far aspirin cancer prevention effects have not been seen in this major UK study after > 4.5 years of therapy. "


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    This is a serious article - but the word 'can' is so often misinterpreted.

    As in "aspirin can prevent and possibly even treat cancer"... but....
    .."experts warn that there is still not enough proof".

    The journalist uses the word for precisely this reason. It over-states the story and the journalists' excuse is that surely the reader realises all the vagaries implied by the word 'can'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Everyone has a unique body, varied ever so slightly that such sweeping ruling of "aspirin a day keeps the cancer away" must be read cautiously and must be followed after *extreme* caution and understanding of our own bodies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I'm allergic to Aspirin so I suppose I should just eat healthily, exercise and avoid smoking, drinking, saturated fats, etc, etc.

    As Ibuprofen and Paracetamol are more popular for pain relief the pharma companies need another excuse for people to take the drug

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    The problem isn't experts, it's people demanding overly simple answers to complex questions. I'm sorry but the world we live in doesn't allow everything to be instantly solved and reduced to a sound-bite you can read about in OK magazine.

    Everything has a risk attached including *NOT* taking aspirin and we have to take some responsibility for making decisions about our own health.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Good intention I know, but people died a lot,lot younger a long time ago.

    Love to know who is giving my comments minuses - must be a drug company rep or a complete idiot. How can you comment on something you know nothing about until you have read the evidence and done the research? Rebecca is that you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    As a rule, take no drugs, at all. Eat fresh, simple food, stay away from animal fats. Exercise daily for an hour. Sleep well. No smoking of course. Stay away from all chemicals. I used aspirin for years but then noticed changes such as bleeding between toes, so I quit and my toes were normal again. Live a natural life, as much as possible, as it was lived a long time ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    There are too many conflicting articles published on the benefits to health or otherwise of Asprin. It can help prevent cancer: it can cause internal bleeding: it can help prevent heart disease: it's a cure all: it's extremely dangerous to certain people. Surely individual cases are the prime important thing - so what use are all these expert opinions?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    12.Sandy Harlestone-Smith
    7 Minutes ago
    I feel sorry for you that you have to make such an ill-informed and frankly offensive comment about the fact I have heart disease and require speciallist medicines to keep me alive. I hope your comment stays so people can see just how ignorant and offensive you are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    All this conflicting device has given me a headache...........

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Studies have proven that one in every two public health reports is just as confusing as the other one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Whilst this story is reporting collective scientific observations, the danger is that some of the media reports are likely to headline 'Aspirin as Cancer Cure'. One wonders how many people may in their desparation and ignorance simply self-administer with potentially bad results. It seems premature to broadcast these findings until the medical profession has formed a view on what advice to give.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Based on years of expert research it's now clear that for every common foodstuff, drink or medication there are two conclusions: 1. It will save your life, 2. It will kill you. This ensures that money keeps flowing into academic research and keeping the boys in jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Asprin is readily available without perscription and it is cheap; reports such as this allow individuals to make a choice. People regularly self medicate for pain relief and the directions provide guidance on the safe doseage limits and contra indications. Dangerous advice? it is the results of a scientific trial. Isn't there an asprin related compound in red wine?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    @7 BMT - An - Alternative - View
    "The EC version passes thru the stomach before dissolving."


    Presumably you wear pads?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This is an irresponsible article if I ever saw one. Aspirin has horrendous stomach and kidney related side effects. The only reason it's given to certain people is because they are at such a high risk that the benefit of their blood thinning properties outweighs these risks. The general public will NOT get a net benefit from using this. 33% of drug-related A&E trips are due to this class of drugs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ha0Uy5J34jo UK Celebrity TV
    Dr Chris Steele MBE, supporting the use of Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) as front line treatment. The Gov DOES know about this drug and need to look into saving some lives. It would save the country money in the long run. Perhaps instead of destroying the NHS, using drugs that work and not kowtowing to the drug companies may help the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    One minute something is good for you, the next it is bad. Same as anything else; Ask any four experts, and expect five different answers

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    "This is dangerous advice. Asprin has significant risks, and there is no pill that can cure cancer."

    Were you actively trying to miss the point here? This isn't 'advice', this is an observation based on research. If medical experts didn't think cancer could be cured, they wouldn't be trying to cure it. There are SEVERAL things linked to potential cancer prevention, including thalidomide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I take Aspirin along with a mix of other meds for treating Cardiac problems.I take an Enteric Coated version which is more expensive than ordinary aspirin.Ordinary Aspirin caused stomach probs.The EC version passes thru the stomach before dissolving.Most of my heart meds are coated that way too.If you're otherwise healthy I'd seek medical advice before just taking aspirin regardless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I think the article should have been titled 'Daily Asprin May...'


Page 7 of 8


More Health stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.