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 145.

    #143 As I said taking Aspirin EVERYDAY excludes you from donating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    I have a hard time believing that everyone's body contains the same levels of carcinogens, and that preventing/combating them is a completely uniformed process all across the board. Something tells me that, in due time, we will come to realize that certain 'mutations' are only anticipated and treated on per-case basis. I could be a quack.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    #138 Sorry not correct, you are completely ok as long as you stop 7 days before, and you are not excluded even if you keep on taking aspirin just have to let them know as the platelets can't be used, but the whole blood and other components can be. Took aspirin before a donation,and thats what was said

    And without quantifying the risk, just describing anything as risky or at risk is meaningless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    The benefits of taking daily Aspirin are still more or less unproven,
    but Bayer certainly will benefit

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    I have taken half an asprin daily since I was 45. I am now 60. This was to reduce my chances of heart disease and stroke. My doctor approved and still approves.

    To hear that I may have reduced my chances of getting a cancer is gratifying.

    Asprin is not the only drug that could save the NHS millions. LDN, (Low-Dose Natrexone) is another. Drug companies resist trialling them though. You know why.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    A very interesting study that sheds lights on the other unknown benefits aspirin had.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    lets see - risk of cancer 1in 83 per year, falls to 1 in 111 with aspirin, and 1 in 132 after 5 years on aspirin. Risk of most common side effect bleeding is 1 in 438 per year ( for a signifcant bleed). Cost about 20p a month. The information is all in this and the linked articles, and its simple arithmatic. I know what I am going to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Taking Aspirin every day automatically excludes you from donating blood. If everyone immediately started this risky practice the UK would be back in the position of having to import donated blood.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    This was a story in the 1980s, when a woman, aged in her 80s was asked to what she owed her longevity.
    She replied, drinking red wine daily, and having one aspirin a day.
    Very promptly a "doctors` representative" stated that the opinion of the lady "should be ignored".
    Seems the doctors have had another look.
    Watch for the next doctor denying its benefits!
    But decide for yourself!

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Step 1. Get some beets, khale, spinnach and alfalfa.
    Step 2. Chuck it all in a blender.
    Step 3. Drink it like a champ.
    Step 4. Drink 1 gallon of water
    Step 5. Make a victory cry
    Conclusion: Cure for everything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    The complexities of molecular signaling processes that are corrupted in cancer cells are immense - if not, the disease(s) would have been cured long ago. This report shares information with the public, in a responsible way, about how the anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin may help reduce risk in some patients. A number of commenters in this thread have reacted hysterically. Stop it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Salicylic Acid in its natural form is infinitely safer than this manufactured form. It comes from Willow bark but also from a number of common every day fruits and vegetables, including dates, raisins, apricots, green pepper, olives, tomato, radish and mushrooms. Surely, for those wishing to prevent cancer, a whole food, non-processed, non-genetically engineered, low meat/fat diet would be safer

  • Comment number 133.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    If you bash yourself to death with a mallet it stops you getting cancer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Actually I may just not take aspririn - what's the point living in the Uk under Cameron's gov anyway? Now everyone between 60 and 65 will lose age allowance - meaning that the gov has shafted pensioners who voted for them and given the money to everyone else. Thanks Dave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Compare the risks with known side-effects - Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); black or bloody stools; confusion; diarrhea; dizziness; drowsiness; hearing loss; ringing in the ears; severe or persistent stomach pain; unusual bruising; vomiting......

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    #84 Nothing is wholly good or bad
    Oh I don't know.
    Cyanide must be close.

    Actually cynade compounds have had a number of medical uses - in understanding diabetes, reduction of blood pressure, etc and it is used as an anti-caking constituent in table salt! Simples!

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Spent 3 years studying related subjects. Balancing blood sugars, eating oily fish, adding linseeds, tumeric and ginger to your diet, cutting out red meat and reducing a lot of vegetable oils from your diet will affect the exact same metabolic pathways as aspirin. Shame they didn't compare the two approaches, bet you the one above works better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    My Dad took an Aspirin a day since he was 50 and died at 59 of cancer 3 months ago. If you live a perfectly healthy lifestyle staying both physically and mentally healthy maybe taking it reduces it by a tiny percentage but an aspirin a day does not "stop cancer".

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Spot on post 125. One of these days I am expecting a study to show smoking is beneficial. The secret of longevity is keep away from the medical profession.


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