Daily aspirin 'prevents and possibly treats cancer'


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

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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. "


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  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Science can prove anything wrong.

    Take the rule "i before e except after c" for example....

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I seem to recall a BBC article only a few months ago that stated that taking aspirin every day was dangerous and it should only be used for people who are in danger of stroke.

    Now we have a meta-study (I believe) and the doctor saying he takes aspirin himself every day (note that he doesn't say what dose). It all seems rather irresponsible to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Story header... "Daily aspirin 'prevents and possibly treats cancer'" (stated as fact)

    4 paragraphs in the reality is... "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."

    Please stop using tabloid mentality on stories BBC.

    Isn't there enough crap in the world?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Looks like a great idea to reduce Cancer - hopefully it will be taken up quickly.

    Aspirin is far cheaper than the toxic Paracetamol and more expensive Ibruprofen.

    As for drugs for cancer being suppressed - please wake up and smell the coffee drug companies need to make money do you achieve that goal by suppression - think!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Given that the overwhelming opinion on daily aspirin seems to be 50/50 is there any point in this debate? It would literally take something along the lines of "ASPIRIN CURES ALZHEIMERS - PROVEN!" to make me interested in this age-old debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Yet again another article designed to confuse the masses. If any of you out their have cancer, it may do you some good to ignore this article after all there is no profit in healthy people...

    Google Dr Burzynski, and follow the treatment he has received from the FDA re: his cure for cancer...which btw has cured over 90% of all his patients, some with "incurable" cancers i.e. deep brain cancer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    There are so many conflicting reports eminating from the scientific community, one couldn't be blamed for thinking they make it all up as they go along. They panic on Friday evening when the report is due on Monday, go to the pub, drink 45 pints of cheap lager and then jot their findings on a beer mat

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Notwithstanding the tiresome conspiracy-of-silence theorists' usual contribution to any debate centred on the pharma industry, I would observe that the BBC is over-fond of regurgitating reports incomplete/inconclusive research from the Lancet, where the headline invariably contains the caveat of "may". 95% of this website's readership are non-medical and such reporting is, at best, misleading.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I predict that before the decade is out everything on the planet will have been shown to either cause or cure cancer and heart disease - many things will do both.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Name number 6 @32

    Well said, i think some articles on this site has had an imput by Prof Stanley Unwin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Great breakthrough, bravo. I assume the pharma giants are cock-a-hoop as well as will be their shareholders. Just wait to see the pharma vampire squid try & suck any credibility out of this discovery. "It can't be effective surely? It just hasn't had the appropriate amount of money spent on research to prove it's efficacy" They'll use their Tory party servants to kick it into the long grass :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    > 23. media_lies
    > As Ibuprofen and Paracetamol are more popular for pain relief the
    > pharma companies need another excuse for people to take the drug

    Worth repeating this so more people can see how ridiculous it is.
    Do you really think there is a conspiracy to make us buy more aspirin of all drugs? Unbelievable - or maybe I am a fish caught on your troll hook.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    There are well documented cures for cancer which are being supressed by a health industry which can not make a profit out of healthy people.

    Best we figure out for ourselves how to prevent cancer rather than donate to "Cancer Relief" which relieves folks of cash more than it relieves folks of cancer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    All BBC articles on the subject of health should come with the following warning:

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Despite compelling evidence, Professor Rothwell himself urged patients not to start taking aspirin every day purely to try to prevent cancer.
    Aspirin can have harmful side effects including stomach ulcers & internal bleeding in the intestines. Other risks in adults include kidney disease and tinnitus – or ringing in the ears.
    Make sure you consult with your doctor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Well done to the media for interpreting this scientific research for us stupid people. Now we can carry on smoking, drinking and eating fatty foods while lay on the settee watching TV safe in the knowledge that taking an aspirin a day will stop us getting cancer - Brilliant

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    "Live a natural life, as much as possible, as it was lived a long time ago."

    Absolutely....when infant mortality was very high, the common man could not afford medicine or doctors, was lucky to live beyond 55 and normally died in poverty...........

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I have been prescribed aspirin, 75mg, for over 10 yrs now and so far have had no adverse effects. Word of caution for anyone who self medicates aspirin is that most over the counter aspirin is 300mg. Take medical advice beffore doing so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Reminds me of the drive to put the entire population on statins. We did not all die of high blood pressure before drug companies invented statins incidentally yet apparently so many people need to take them nowadays. There must have been people dropping all over the place - except they weren't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Along with the drive to put the entire population on statins, everyone did not die of heart disease and high


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