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.