Should I take aspirin?

aspirin Low dose aspirin is widely given to people with heart problems

Related Stories

Should I be taking aspirin every day? It's a question that I hear frequently and I guess will hear even more often after the latest research from scientists at the University of Oxford.

In a series of papers in the Lancet, the team, led by Professor Peter Rothwell found that a daily low dose of the cheap drug cut the risk of a range of cancers, and could even treat the disease.

Most startling were findings which suggest that aspirin can prevent the spread of cancer. The chances that cancer had already spread by the time it was diagnosed were cut by almost a third. The risk of cancer spreading in those already diagnosed was cut by at least a half.

Prof Rothwell said: "Aspirin has a big effect on the spread of the cancer which is important as it's the commonest reason that cancer kills people. We found that after five years of taking aspirin there was a 30-40% reduction in deaths from cancer."

You can read more about the research here.

Previous research by Prof Rothwell and colleagues found that daily aspirin use cut overall cancer deaths by a fifth over twenty years.

We already know that people at high risk of heart disease and stroke are often recommended to take aspirin for its protective effects.

An initial glance of the three papers would seem to tip the balance in favour of healthy middle-aged people popping a daily low dose (75mg) of aspirin.

A commentary by Andrew Chan and Nancy Cook from Harvard Medical School, described the research as "compelling" even though it did not include the two huge studies which did not show a reduced risk of cancer incidence or deaths after a decade of follow-up. These papers were excluded because they involved volunteers taking aspirin on alternate days.

I was contacted by Professor Janusz Jankowski, from Queen Mary, University of London, who is conducting a separate trial involving 2,500 patients looking specifically at aspirin and cancer prevention.

The trial is not yet published but Prof Jankowski said after more than four years follow-up they had found "zero" benefits. These are clearly disappointing results but such negative findings are unlikely to attract the same fanfare as Rothwell's positive outcome.

The elephant in the room with aspirin is internal bleeding. The dangers of bleeds, including in the stomach, intestines and brain are well-known. It's these adverse effects - which can be serious and even fatal - which have prevented doctors from recommending daily aspirin for healthy middle-aged people.

Prof Rothwell thinks it is time for guidelines to be reviewed in the wake of the evidence on cancer prevention.

I suspect many people may take the decision into their own hands. Cost is not an issue here - aspirin is about the cheapest drug there is - little more than a penny a pill.

But healthy adults considering daily aspirin need to know the potential risks and that they will effectively be medicalising themselves for many years as the benefits come from long-term use.

I wrote about my personal decision to take aspirin back in December 2010 when the first raft of Rothwell research came out.

In January 2012 I was asked whether I was still taking it, after medical trials showed that for those without a history of heart disease or stroke, aspirin was more likely to do harm rather than good.

I said I was, partly because I knew this new Rothwell research was due at some point. But for anyone still interested I have recently stopped because of a - as yet undiagnosed - gut complaint. I will talk to my doctor - and maybe have another look at the mounting research on this issue - before deciding whether to continue with aspirin.

Those without the time or inclination to wade through research papers should be helped in due course by further research on the risks and benefits of aspirin. But don't expect a simple, quick or straightforward answer to the question: "should I take aspirin every day?"

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

Premature birth 'biggest killer'

Preterm birth biggest global killer. A new study shows it accounts for more than 1m deaths per year - mostly in the developing world.

Read full article

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 42.

    #40 Ah i didnt want to say im not proud of the fact that im studying medicine. If there are other people who took offence i apology. I just wanted to say we should not expect our doctors to know everything correctly since every new research changes the things we thought correct. I think there is a lot of think we know and much more we will learn thats all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Should I take aspirin is the question.
    The answer may not be political, but it is up to you. Personal choice.
    Seems that BBC is floating articles about drink, ciggies and exercise to follow govt guidelines.
    What citizens do is a PERSONAL choice!! Get that BBC/Politicians?
    Not any business of government.
    My advice? Disregard all ciggies/drink/food consumption non stories!

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    #39 Does that mean you're doing a life science degree in a medical school (I did... genetics then clinical biochem) rather than being a 'medical student' actually studying medicine? If so say so and be proud of it. Clinical scientists know more about drug interactions than GP's do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    A lot of people thinks their doctor knows everything.. I am a faculty of medicine student and i know there are still a lot of things we dont know. And more importantly there are still a lot of things we are doing wrong even though we believe we are doing the right thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    What about other drugs in the NSAID group? We need to know exactly what it is about aspirin that might be of benefit before making sweeping recommendations.

    I use Voltarol, in the same group, in gel form several times a week, and who knows, maybe I'm already protecting myself against cancers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    #36 Good advice. I was taking iboprofen for a back injury and was feeling progressively weirder and lethargic as well as having a serious flare up in my eczema. Turned out I was anaemic from stomach bleeding, hence the lethargy & since I stopped the iboprofen (getting serious headaches for weeks after) had very little skin problems. Exercise (swimming) has improved the back pain better than drugs

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    All NSAIDs (of which asprin is probably the oldest known) are thought to have cancer reducing effects. This includes ibuprofen, diclofenac and many others. However, they also appear to have other side effects including antagonizing asthma.

    In all cases - talk to your doctor before self-medicating or you run the risk of shortening your life rather than extending it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Its worth pointing out that a standard aspirin tablet is 300mg. The study used a dose of 75mg. Thats only a quarter of a tablet a day. Thats a VERY low dose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    4. Moonraker
    21ST MARCH 2012 - 20:17
    Surely it couldn't be because they receive an 'incentive' from big pharma, could it?
    Not another one of you. 'Big Pharma' doesn't make Aspirin. Its 100 years out of patent & It costs pennies a tablet and is manufactured in Asia for supermarkets. PREVENTING cancer means no Herceptin sales at 30K a year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Post 20, marie - there are other reactions that are less well known (though medically verified) such as depression in aspirin users. I was proscribed it as part of my heart treatment. Then was treated for depression later. When I stopped taking aspirin the deep depression lifted. After 'experiments', and comparing notes with others on the Web there seems to be a connection. Research is needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    "I have recently stopped because of a - as yet undiagnosed - gut complaint."
    Sorry to hear that and hope you get better soon. Must admit I often have a similar gut complaint when I notice HYS editors have again decided to prevent comment on breaking news for reasons of political correctness ie. terrorist activities in France.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Let’s take a wait and see position. If Aspirin can prevent Cancer, we need to know if Aspirin is changing Methylation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    One dose of aspirin for a headache usually does no harm BUT some, especially children, can be seriously harmed by this potent drug. Long term use can also cause bleeding & should be taken only under medical supervision.
    As I said in the previous debate on this subject, on the suggestion of a GP, I take Omega 3 fish oil supplements which has some amazing claimed benefits that need more research

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    @ 22. TheTreboethTerror
    "speak to your GP first - it really is that simple."

    Don't count on it. I take a daily dose of aspirin after two heart attacks and having had a stent fitted. I attend a rehab class with 26 other HA sufferers and every single one of us is on aspirin. That's 27 patients and 27 different GPs.

    I think that there is an aspirin bandwagon out there for GPs to jump on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.


    "Surely it couldn't be because they receive an 'incentive' from big pharma, could it?"

    Considering Aspirin is well outside patent control because it's been around for donkeys years; No it seems unlikely.

  • Comment number 27.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    It's worth noting that the commentary in the Lancet on these findings basically concluded the following:
    - Worth considering on an individualised basis for high risk individuals (e.g. people with a history of colorectal cancer or Lynch syndrome).
    - Too early to say as regards more general use. Therefore, the general conclusion might be: not enough evidence yet, so don't generally recommend yet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    "Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent
    Should I take aspirin?"

    I don't know. Why are you asking me? Go and see your GP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    It's important to stress that the studies reviewed LOW DOSAGE asprin (75 mg, equivalent to less than one junior asprin per day).
    Don't, for goodness sake, start popping regular-sized adult asprins on a long-term basis, unless on medical advice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Took aspirin for a while and heanorraged in the eyes losing the right one, naturally for people like me I wouldn't recommend it. Until you can prove it does you harm doctors will prescribe it to you because it is cheap.


Page 1 of 3



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.