Should You Take Daily Aspirin to Prevent Cancer?

Should You Take Daily Aspirin to Prevent Cancer?

by Bahar Gholipour

The potential benefits of taking a daily dose of aspirin for cancer prevention may outweigh the risks, a new review of studies suggests. However, doctors are divided on whether these findings mean that everyone should start taking an aspirin every day.

The researchers reviewed previous studies that had investigated whether there was a link between aspirin and cancer prevention. The results of the studies varied depending on the site of the cancer and the age of people who took daily aspirin, among other factors. But overall, the researchers estimated that if everyone between ages 50 and 65 started taking aspirin daily for at least 10 years, there would be a 9 percent reduction in the number of cancers, strokes and heart attacks in men, and about a 7 percent reduction of cases in these health conditions in women.

The researchers also found that overall, the number of deaths from all causes over a 20-year period would be reduced by 4 percent.

Most of the beneficial effects linked to aspirin use were seen in people with colon, stomach and esophageal cancers, the researchers said.

To put the findings into perspective, the results mean that if 100 women started taking daily aspirin at age 50 and continued for 10 years, there would be one fewer case of cancer, stroke or heart attack than expected. The benefits appear larger for men — if 100 men started taking daily aspirin at age 65, the group would have about 4 fewer cases of those conditions than expected, the researchers found. [Infographic: How Taking Aspirin Affects Death Rates]

The harms of regularly taking aspirin included a higher risk of bleeding in the stomach and other parts of the digestive tract, and a less common type of stroke caused by bleeding of vessels in the brain. But the increase in risk was modest, and overall, the researchers found that the rates of serious or deadly bleeding were low for people younger than age 70 but increased sharply after that age.

“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,” study researcher Jack Cuzick, head of the Centre for Cancer Prevention at Queen Mary University of London, said in a statement. Cuzick, who is also on the advisory board of Bayer — the maker and trademark holder of aspirin — added that people should consult with their doctor about the possible risks before beginning daily medication.

More research is needed to know who will benefit most from taking aspirin and who is most at risk of side effects, the researchers said. The study was published today (Aug. 5) in the journal Annals of Oncology, and was funded by several associations, including the American Cancer Society, the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK.

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