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 its benefits today.
The research shows long-term use of aspirin significantly reduces the risk of developing and dying from major cancers, mostly affecting the digestive tract.
If everyone in the UK aged 50 to 64 took aspirin for 10 years, an estimated 130,357 cancer deaths and 9,473 fatal heart attacks could be avoided over two decades, the study found.
On the other side of the equation, 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 Prof 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 that he took a daily low-dose aspirin pill every day “as part of a bedtime ritual”.
The research, published in journal Annals of Oncology, pulled together data from reviews and clinical trials looking at both the good and bad effects of preventative 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.
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.
While aspirin use cut heart attack risk by 18 per cent, it only led to a five per cent reduction in heart attack deaths, according to the study.
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 it was unclear whether the pros of taking aspirin outweighed the cons.
He added: “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.”