Aspirin has a proven ability to prevent cancer which should be factored into new patient guidelines, according to the British lead author of a major new study.
Professor Peter Rothwell believes the evidence shows aspirin’s anti-cancer benefits may be bigger than its protective effect on the heart and arteries.
His research, published in two Lancet journals, suggests that low daily doses of the painkiller may not only prevent cancer occurring, but also slow its progress.
The findings add to a body of evidence suggesting that cheap and widely available aspirin may be a powerful if overlooked weapon in the battle against cancer. But the research also poses difficult questions for doctors and public health officials, as regular doses of aspirin can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and other side effects. Past studies have suggested that the drawbacks of daily use may outweigh the benefits, particularly in healthy patients.
One study showed that taking aspirin reduced the risk of developing cancer by about a quarter after just three years. From five years onwards, it cut the risk of dying from cancer by 37%.
Another in a series of three papers showed that aspirin reduced the chances of cancer spreading instead of staying in one place by almost 50%.
The trials were designed to compare aspirin with no treatment for the prevention of heart disease.
But when Professor Rothwell’s team examined how many of the participants developed and died from cancer, they found this was also related to aspirin use.
The NHS website says the benefits are uncertain.