If everyone aged between 50 and 65 started taking aspirin daily for at least 10 years, there would be a significant reduction in the number of cancers, strokes and heart attacks, leading preventive health experts say.
In assessing the prophylactic use of aspirin, researchers from Queen Mary University of London’s Centre for Cancer Prevention conclude the benefits of the drug outweigh the harms.
Their analysis of recent systematic reviews shows an aspirin a day can significantly reduce the risk of developing – and dying from – the major cancers of the digestive tract including bowel, stomach and oesophageal cancer.
The findings published in Annals of Oncology could be a game-changer in preventive health, says lead author Professor Jack Cuzick.
“Whilst there are some serious side effects that can’t be ignored, taking aspirin daily looks to be the most important thing we can do to reduce cancer after stopping smoking and reducing obesity, and will probably be much easier to implement,” he says.
To reap the benefits of aspirin, the evidence shows that middle-aged people need to start taking a daily dose of between 75mg and 325mg for at least five years and probably 10 years.
No benefit was seen while taking aspirin for the first three years, and death rates were reduced only after five years.
While it has long been known that aspirin can protect against certain types of cancer, Professor Cuzick says this is the first study that confirms the pros outweigh the cons.
“Excess bleeding is the most important harm associated with aspirin use, and its risk and fatality rate increases with age,” the authors write.
“For average-risk individuals aged 50-65 years taking aspirin for 10 years, there would be a relative reduction of 7% for women and 9% for 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.”
The benefits of aspirin use appear to be most visible in the reduction in deaths due to cancer.
The authors say further research is needed to determine the optimum dose, define more clearly who will benefit most and to identify those at increased risk of bleeding.
By Amanda Davey – 6 Minutes
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