7th December, 2010
Taking an aspirin every day cuts the risk of dying from a range of common cancers,Â according to a major study.
British researchers have discovered the first definitive evidence that aspirinÂ reduces overall death rates by a third after just five yearsâ€™ use.
Rates were slashed by half for some cancers and the longer people took the drug, theÂ better the protection.
The study has led to the 100-year-old painkiller â€“ costing just 1p a tablet â€“ beingÂ hailed as â€˜the most amazing drug in the world.â€™
Experts say healthy middle-aged people who start taking low-dose aspirin around theÂ age of 45 or 50 for 20 to 30 years could expect to reap the most benefit, becauseÂ cancer rates rise with age.
In addition, a 75mg dose â€“ a quarter of a standard 300mg tablet â€“ helps preventÂ heart attacks and strokes even in people who have not been diagnosed withÂ cardiovascular problems.
Millions of heart patients who already take low-dose aspirin on doctorsâ€™ orders toÂ ward off a second heart attack or stroke will be getting built-in cancer protection.
There has been widespread concern that side effects such as stomach bleeding andÂ haemorrhagic stroke would outweigh any advantage among healthy people starting aÂ daily regime.
But Professor Peter Rothwell, of the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, who headed theÂ latest study of almost 26,000 patients, is convinced the ground rules have changed.Â He said: â€œThese findings provide the first proof in man that aspirin reduces deathsÂ due to several common cancers.
â€œPrevious guidelines have rightly cautioned that in healthy middle-aged people, theÂ small risk of bleeding on aspirin partly offsets the benefits from prevention ofÂ strokes and heart attacks, but the reductions in deaths due to several commonÂ cancers will now alter this balance for many people.â€
The study, published in The Lancet medical journal, looked at eight trials whereÂ heart patients were allocated daily aspirin or dummy treatment for five years. TheÂ heart benefits had already been reported â€“ this time the researchers wanted toÂ discover what happened to death rates from cancer. They found dramatic results, withÂ aspirin linked to fewer deaths from a host of cancers. After five years of takingÂ aspirin, death rates fell by 34 percent for all cancers and 54 percent forÂ gastrointestinal cancers. Even after 20 years, the risk of cancer death remained 20Â percent lower in groups previously allocated aspirin for all solid cancers and 35Â percent lower for gastrointestinal cancers.
It took five years for the benefits to emerge for oesophageal (gullet), pancreatic,Â brain and some forms of lung cancer. It took ten years for protection to take effectÂ in stomach and colorectal cancer and 15 years for prostate cancer. Too few womenÂ were included in the trials to give results for breast and ovarian cancer but theÂ figures were â€˜all in the right directionâ€™.