Aspirin: A new paper in Annals of Oncology has demonstrated that simple taking an aspirin a day may help substantially reduce the risk of cancer in older people. Researchers involved in the study think that if every person aged 50-64 in Britain took just one aspirin a day, it would prevent up to 122,000 premature deaths from cancer.
As long as patients don't have blood disorders (serious stomach bleeding is a potential concern), take blood thinning medication or are heavy drinkers or smokers, doctors think that the benefits outweigh the harms. and that the evidence demonstrates aspirin could be a major tool in the anti-cancer arsenal.
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The science: Medical experts from Queen Mary University of London reviewed about 200 studies on the benefits and harms of aspirin in an attempt to paint a better picture of its impact on human health. They found that a daily 75mg dose of aspirin could potentially reduce the risk of getting or dying from bowel, stomach and oesophageal cancer by 30-40%, as well as fight breast, prostate and lung cancer at lower levels of success. Aspirin also suppressed stroke and heart attacks.
"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," head researcher Jack Cuzick told the BBC.
Cuzick says that the 18,000 additional deaths could be offset by advising a cut-off period of 10 years. He also suggests that the presence of certain kinds of bacteria that cause peptic ulcers would be another warning sign not to take daily aspirin. Those over 70 are more likely to develop serious gastrointestinal bleeding, meaning it may not be advisable for them to partake.
Preventive use of aspirin only works in people age 50 or older, and the researchers cautioned people not to take aspirin without the advice of a doctor. Other scientists interviewed by the BBC said future trials are needed to confirm it works and figure out ways to minimize side effects.
What it means for you: While there may be some reservations about the methodology of the studies considered in this research, there's enough positive progress here to encourage others to pursue more strenuous scientific testing.
As the world's growing cancer pandemic seems unstoppable, prevention might be the best tool, and you'd be hard pressed to come up with a simpler solution that an aspirin a day. An apple a day might sound good, but an aspirin a day is much better.