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 65.

    Aspirin has two parts. The acetyl part helps with heart disease.

    Now recent research shows that the salicylate part helps fight cancer.

    There are other forms and sources of salicylates in naturally grown foods. Maybe changes in diet can combat cancer, without side effects.

    A curry a day to keep cancer at bay? More research is needed.... :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Another day, another health story. But wait, aspirin might help prevent cancer, but you can easily wind up with stomach ulcers instead. Red meat will kill you, but it's beneficial in so far as it helps get iron into the system. Red wine kills you, but it's great for preventing heart disease.

    Life and health is about compromise. Nothing is wholly good or bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    No mention of the Hives you may get when taking Aspirin.
    Aspirin is a well known irritant.
    To those who find themselves on medication such as Plavix for Heart disease and are also on Aspirin, check with your Doctor as you may not need the Aspirin.
    I speak from experience.
    Always check with your Doctor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    @18 BMT - An - Alternative - View
    "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'm in the same boat as you, but not whining about it. You made a nonsensical comment which made me laugh.

    A sense of humour about such things helps. Maybe you should get one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Aspirin reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. But the risk of having a bleed from taking it is often greater than the benefits. Now. We now think that a further benefit to aspirin is a small reduction in certain cancers. If you are thinking about taking it see your GP. I think if it was me, I would probably take it (but then I'm not at very high risk of a GI bleed, (I hope!)).

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    We live in a toxic world. Our air, water, foodstuffs and clothing has brought us to the point where the human body is now considered a Biohazard. Good luck with leading a 'healthy life' on a now comprehensively poisoned planet. By all means swallow the pill if it helps you feel better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    @ 43.downrate opinions and win an internet
    ....Please stop using tabloid mentality on stories BBC....

    Couldn't agree more!!
    From your own post: "...the drug can cause dangerous side effects like stomach bleeds."
    Then later on - in the sidebar about half-way down:
    "...Aspirin can cause fatal internal bleeding, although this is relatively rare"

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    49. TheSkyisBlue "that 'rule' is no longer taught in scholls as it has been proven that there are more exceptions than there are instances where it applies"
    I would love to see a link to this "proof", which seems to me to be complete nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Yes you have got it wrong. The article does NOT say its a cure. It says "prevent and possibly treat".

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    I have taken asprin for a 10 year perid of the low does in more recent time 6 years following the insertion of two stents.
    last christmas eve I had a stroke followed by a carotay operation .
    I have fully recoverd except for a slight los of feeling in the area of the opration My advice is do not smoke particularrly at an early age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Daily aspirin reports.
    7-12-10. Cuts Cancer Risk.
    9-1-12. May Cause Harm.
    21-3-12. Risks and Benefits.

    Confused? You will be. Couldn't we have saved a lot of time and money by producing one report advising people to erm,well.......... get advice for their ailments?

  • Comment number 54.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    """"Some people believe that prayer or faith healers can cure cancer and other illnesses, but this is only because such disease can often go into remission.
    This article has about as much weight as belief in prayer or faith healing"""""
    This article as nothing to do with prayer or Religion, so please leave Christian faith out of it thank you, as "cheap shots/" only makes you look worse

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Nice to see the level of informed, intelligent commenting here. I am now taking low-dose aspirin daily, having been alerted to the clinical study results by a balanced BBC news item. My GP and cardiac consultant were both happy that I'd made that considered decision, and both agreed it was a sensible move. The BBC report is neither sensationalist nor misleading.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    So judging from these comments most people fail to comprehend the difference between curing cancer and preventing cancer, and scientists shouldn't even consider reporting, or even undertaking, research unless it'll give everyone a simple, clear-cut conclusion. Is that about right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Some people believe that prayer or faith healers can cure cancer and other illnesses, but this is only because such disease can often go into remission.

    This article has about as much weight as belief in prayer or faith healing.

    I really wish the BBC would stop writing these dangerously misleading articles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    @45 - Interestingly that 'rule' is no longer taught in scholls as it has been proven that there are more exceptions than there are instances where it applies

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Sounds like good news doesn'r but wait, ah, the word, "Can," is one of those terms which is not legally binding. Other such words are, "May," "Possible," "Might," etc. They are dangerous words and are continuously used in advertising, e.g. "We can save you money on your car insurance." yes, maybe you can but the chances are you won't. Look out for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    You need to wake up. 3 biggest industries in the world, War - Oil - Healthcare.

    Yes, lets give them the cure for cancer, we'll profit from curing 13million people globally per year. From a business point of view, thats a lot of "ill" people who make pharma money, not ill anymore.

    Go back to your TV, Twitter and Facebook...all is rosy in the world, the government is your friend.

  • Comment number 46.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


Page 5 of 8


More Health stories



Copyright © 2015 BBC. 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.