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 low daily doses of the painkiller may not only prevent cancer occurring, but also slow its progress.
One study showed 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 per cent.
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 per cent.
The deadly spread, or metastasis, of tumours to organs such as the liver and brain is usually what kills cancer patients.
Many people take low 75 milligram doses of aspirin each day against heart attacks and strokes.
Experts advise against this for “healthy” individuals at no special risk of heart and artery disease because of the possible long-term side effects of aspirin. The drug, which prevents blood clotting, can increase the likelihood of internal bleeding in the stomach, intestines and brain.
In some cases, such as pregnant women at risk of high blood pressure, the benefits of taking aspirin are said to outweigh the risks. However, to date cancer has not been part of this calculation.
Prof Rothwell, from Oxford University, said: “This research really shows the cancer benefit is as large, if not larger, than the benefit in terms of preventing heart attacks and strokes. It does change the equation quite drastically.”
Two studies are published in The Lancet and The Lancet Oncology.
Prof Rothwell suggested the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which issues treatment guidelines for the NHS, should issue advice on the use of aspirin to combat cancer.