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  • Daily aspirin can ward off cancer

    Author: AAP

Healthy people should be encouraged to take a daily dose of aspirin to ward off cancer, according to the leader of a new study highlighting the drug's benefits.

The research shows that long-term use of aspirin significantly reduces the risk of developing major cancers, mostly affecting the digestive tract, and dying from them.

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If everyone in the UK aged 50 to 64 took aspirin for 10 years an estimated 130,357 cancer deaths could be avoided over two decades, the study found. A further 9473 fatal heart attacks would also be prevented.

On the other side of the equation, population-wide aspirin use would be expected to cause just under 18,000 deaths over 20 years, mainly due to internal bleeding and strokes.

However, the scientists believe the scales are tipped firmly towards aspirin when weighing up the risks and benefits of the drug.

Lead researcher Professor Jack Cuzick, head of Queen Mary, University of London's Centre for Cancer Prevention, stopped short of urging GPs to prescribe aspirin to healthy patients but added: "I think they should recommend it."

He revealed he took a daily low-dose aspirin pill every day "as part of a bedtime ritual".

The research pulled together all the available data from reviews and clinical trials looking at the good and bad effects of preventive use of aspirin.

Prof Cuzick's team found that taking the drug for 10 years could cut bowel cancer incidence by 35 per cent and deaths by 40 per cent.

Similarly, rates of stomach and oesophageal cancer were reduced by 30 per cent and deaths from these diseases by 35 per cent and 50 per cent respectively.

Aspirin had a weaker impact on non-gastrointestinal cancers. But taking the drug lowered rates of lung and prostate cancer by five and 10 per cent, and deaths from both by 15 per cent. It also reduced breast cancer incidence by 10 per cent and mortality by five per cent.

While aspirin use cut heart attack risk by 18 per cent, it led to only a five per cent reduction in heart attack deaths.

Overall, rates of serious or fatal bleeding in the gut due to the blood-thinning effects of aspirin were very low under the age of 70, but increased sharply after that age.

Prof Cuzick said: "It has long been known that aspirin - one of the cheapest and most common drugs on the market - can protect against certain types of cancer. But until our study, where we analysed all the available evidence, it was unclear whether the pros of taking aspirin outweighed the cons."

The research, published in the journal Annals of Oncology, covered more than 200 clinical trials and other studies investigating aspirin's anti-cancer effects.

Scientists believe the drug combats cancer by reducing inflammation and suppressing blood-clotting platelets, which are thought to chaperone cancer cells around the body.

Prof Cuzick stressed that because of the possible effects, no one should take aspirin every day without speaking to their GP first.

Copyright, AAP 2014


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