Taking a daily aspirin 'cuts cancer risk', a new study finds

Several major news outlets have reported this week that taking an aspirin every day could cut your risk of developing cancer.  The study was a joint effort from a number of institutions from the UK, Europe and the United States and was funded by Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

The researchers from involved with this study calculated that for average-risk individuals aged 50 to 65 taking aspirin for 10 years, there would be a relative reduction of between 7% (women) and 9% (men) in the number of cancer, myocardial infarction or stroke events over a 15-year period, and an overall 4% relative reduction in all deaths over a 20-year period.

Below are their calculations of the effect of aspirin in reducing the risk of cancers and cardiovascular events, giving what the researchers say are “conservative” estimates:

colorectal (bowel) cancer – 30% reduction in incidence and 35% reduction in deaths

oesophageal cancer – 25% reduction in incidence and 45% reduction in deaths

gastric cancer – 25% reduction in incidence and 30% reduction in deaths

lung cancer – no reduction in incidence, 10% reduction in deaths

prostate cancer – 5% reduction in incidence, 10% reduction in deaths

breast cancer – 5% reduction in incidence no reduction in deaths

heart attack – 18% reduction in incidence, 5% in deaths

stroke – 5% reduction in incidence, 21% increase in deaths

Whilst the initial results of this study show huge promise, it is not clear whether the methods used in compiling the data were systematic, so the results may not be entirely reliable.  Most of the news coverage also highlighted some of the side effects of taking aspirin daily.  To be fair to the researchers, they do argue the benefits of taking the drug need to be balanced against the harms.

It is important that before taking aspirin, including for pain relief, you should talk to your GP or pharmacist if:

 

you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breastfeeding

you have a blood disorder

you have ever had a stomach ulcer

you suffer from asthma

you have liver or kidney problems

you have high blood pressure

you have haemophilia or any other bleeding disorder

you have had an unusual or allergic-type reaction to any medicine

you are taking other medicines

Aspirin should also not be given to children under 16 years of age.

For further information, please visit the NHS Choices website.