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 105.

    I get the impression I've heard this story a lot already, over the years. The benefits, and the problems with potential stomach ulcers.

    What's new?

    Oh yes, the need not to discuss the French shootings, maybe? Come on BBC, this was THE story yesterday when it looked like it might be a right wing nutter. Seems to have dropped off the radar now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Aspirin, one moment it's good for you, the next it isn't.
    Good for this and for that - but there are risks involved!
    Perhaps like much else, one ought to take it with a pinch of salt, make your own minds up and avoid the guesswork of those behind the releases of tales, some no doubt tall.
    Harder to swallow is only a six week deployment of a helicopter crew to the Falklands! WASTE PUBLIC FUNDS!

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Approx four years ago I was sure the agonizing pain in my leg and groin area was Thrombosis. I was already on 1000 iu's of vitamin E among other vitamins.
    It was evening, my wife was at work as a nurse and it was too late to see a doctor. I live in Australia so they don't do house calls here and I was not going to mess about calling an ambulance.
    To be continued.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Some people here seem to have the notion that the findings of one study are final and that contradictions shouldn't happen in later studies. This just isn't true in clinical research, it's often the opposite. The effects of drugs are complex so it's likely new findings and recommendations for them will be made at a later stage for our benefit. So don't be annoyed and don't believe the hype either

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Is there any evidence as to what the asprin actually DOES or is this yet more statistical analysis bereft of any scientific content?

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Every several months a new miracle is attributed to aspirin. Is there another more useful, cheaper and accessible drug on the planet?

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    My apologies 76, my comment was meant to be aimed at 79.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    87. ObservantBiker
    People seem to be unaware that cancer is not a single disease, each individual cancer is caused by a combination of factors which affect different cell signalling pathways, but all cause cells to grow when they shouldn't.
    If all cancers were the same there would be a single treatment.
    Why is this getting minus scores? Its entirely true & sensibly written!

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Was it in the 60s that doctors used to actually encourage people to smoke? Helps you relax and destress and all that.. With advances in medical science it is now definite that smoking causes cancer. Who is to say that in thirty years time what doctors will say about aspirin? Their stories change so much, it's really not worth paying attention to...

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    New Miracle Cure!

    Try not smoking... take regular exercise, eat a healthy varied diet (dont get fat), works wonders!


  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    And why shuld we all worry, with this toxic coalitions gerrymandering of the Health Bill by the Tory my luds and my laaadies with their shares in private health firms we all xxxxx'd and off to hell in a cart anyway

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    How many conflicting health issues are we going to hear? In two week's time, they will be publishing that Asprin can increase the chances of a stroke or a heartattack. Researcher's need to be seen to be making a breakthrough of some kind, in a few weeks to a months time, Asprin will be a health risk and we will be urged to avoid it. Watch this space...

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Quote: "Taking a low dose of aspirin every day can PREVENT..."


    Working on the principle that in order to prevent something we have to know that it will happen then ability of aspirin to select which of its users would be a future victim of an undiagnosed cancer and for it to step in and stop the cancer before it begins is remarkable!

    More research please Mr or Ms Journalist...

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    @76. Eating broccoli, drinking cranberry juice, cutting down on red meat and taking an aspirin a day will mean you're less likely to die from cancer. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. It's the 45 pints on a friday night (good one Bibi) that'll probably kill me...anyhoo, I'm off to do some more research so you lot can scoff at it on a BBC forum when it gets published next year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Let's hope it turns out that Aspirin can cure everything, because that is all we'll be getting prescribed by the new breed of financially motivated GPs that Cameron's reforms will bring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    74.matt mackenzie
    ..any chance of a straight answer..?
    If every adult of 50+ in the country took a low dose aspirin each day, some would suffer side effects but more (though by no means all) would be saved from heart attack, stroke and especially cancer. On average it would be good for the population but not good for the unlucky individuals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    A hospital consultant once told me to ignore all these much hyped stories. She said that the media grab hold of one little piece of info and blow it up to make a story.
    Same consultant also told me that unless you have hereditary prob with high cholesterol then you could eat what you want, in moderation ofcourse. Low cholesterol just as dangerous according to her.
    Just enjoy life-much healthier!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    @69 siss.
    >@45 - the rule actually is 'i before e except after c ONLY when the >sound is 'ee'
    >as in receive

    You mean as in "species"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    People seem to be unaware that cancer is not a single disease, each individual cancer is caused by a combination of factors which affect different cell signalling pathways, but all cause cells to grow when they shouldn't.
    If all cancers were the same there would be a single treatment.

    Aspirin may prevent some types of cancer, but there is no magic drug that prevents / treats all types of cancer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    @79 - Tic-Tacs but not the multicoloured ones!!!


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