Could an aspirin a day could dramatically cut your cancer risk?

In an incredibly detailed review of 200 studies published between 2009 and 2012, the results showed that the benefits of taking an aspirin every day for cancer prevention far outweigh the risks.

The research published in the Annals of Oncology showed some very impressive results when it came to cancers, especially those in the digestive tract (bowel, stomach and esophageal).

I only had a short time to discuss the subject on the Paul Henry show, but read on below if you want to find out more.

Click on the photo to watch the television interview

Click on the photo to watch the television interview

The review looked at 200 studies which measured the health of patients who had taken aspirin  in doses of 70 to 325 mg per day over many years.

They found that those who took aspirin daily over a 10 year period cut the:

  • Incidence of bowel cancer by 35%, and deaths from the disease by 40%
  • Incidence of stomach cancer by 30% and deaths from the disease by 35%
  • Incidence of esophageal cancer by 30% and deaths from the disease by 50%!
  • Incidence of heart attack by 18% and deaths from the disease by 5%.

They also found evidence that lung, breast, and prostate cancers were reduced but not by such a large amount.

So how does it work?  Well there have been several suggested mechanisms including:

However, running to pop an aspirin right now and hoping that you are protected won’t work.  The effects of aspirin seemed take a long time to start showing any cancer proection and between the ages of 50 and 65 years, three years was the minimum and five to ten years of daily dosage required to gain the full benefits.

As great as this all sounds, none of the health organisations currently recommend taking aspirin to prevent cancer.  There are some risks involved, such as an increased risk of stomach bleeding of between 2.2% to 3.6% for 60 year olds,  importantly in those cases, 5% of the bleeds could be fatal.

The paper calculated that the risk of side effects from taking aspirin are:

  • major (extracranial) bleeding – 70% increase in incidence
  • gastric bleeding – 70% increase in deaths
  • peptic ulcer – 70% increase in deaths

In conclusion, the findings on aspirin and cancer do show promise, however a more specific study needs to be carried out with control groups and placebo pills to really make a solid conclusion.  Because this study was based on many other research publications, each with their own design and level of quality with a lot of the evidence coming purely from observations, there are still some holes in the research.

It is also worth noting that many cancer risks can be reduced by lifestyle choices such as not smoking and keeping a healthy body weight.  The infographic below from the UK cancer research society shows how much each lifestyle choice can have an effect on a cancer type.

Proportions of cancers in the UK linked to the 14 lifestyle and environmental factors studied. Image Source

Proportions of cancers in the UK linked to the 14 lifestyle and environmental factors studied. Image Source

The advice is to go and chat to your doctor about whether taking a low dose of aspirin every day could help to reduce your risks of some diseases.  It’s important to note that aspirin can cause major side effects such as peptic ulcers and bleeding from the stomach, and so ensuring you go through your full medical history with your doctor is important especially if you are pregnant, have a blood disorder, have a stomach ulcer, have asthma, have kidney problems, blood pressure issues or a bleeding disorder.

 

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