Cure-all aspirin has long been used to alleviate inflammation, fever, headaches, pain and to lower the risk as we age for those prone to heart attacks, strokes and blood clots.
It has also long been thought to reduce cancers, but a new study has delivered remarkable results for those predisposed to developing myriad forms of the disease.
The long-term study, partly conducted by researchers at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and published in The Lancet, claims that one of the cheapest and most widely used medications in the world has proven to be highly effective in preventing one of the most common forms of cancer.
The research, which began 20 years ago in Europe and was joined 10 years ago by researchers and patients in Melbourne, tracked 861 people from across the globe with Lynch syndrome, a hereditary disease that increases the risk of colorectal cancer, among many others.
Half the group was given a daily 600mg dose of aspirin, the other a placebo.
The study revealed that two aspirin a day, taken for an average of two-and-a-half years, reduced the rate of bowel cancer by half. The group taking aspirin also reported a 37 per cent decrease in other cancers compared with the control group.
A recent study cast doubt on the benefits of a daily aspirin for health and longevity, but in light of these new findings the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Professor Finlay Macrae, an expert in the field of bowel cancer, is encouraging all 50 to 70-year-olds to discuss taking aspirin with their GP.
“It wouldn’t be recommended for people with an active ulcer or indigestion, uncontrolled high blood pressure, kidney impairment or an aspirin allergy,” Prof. Macrae warned, speaking to The Age.
Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women in Australia and is more common in people over the age of 50. In 2016, there were 5375 deaths caused by bowel cancer in Australia, representing the second highest number of cancer deaths in the country.
However, if found early, 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be successfully treated, studies have found.
Professor Sir John Burn, from Newcastle University in the UK, led the latest research.
“I had an idea 30 years ago that people with a genetic predisposition to colon cancer could help us to test whether aspirin really could reduce the risk of cancer,” he told Science Daily.
“Patients with Lynch syndrome are high risk and this offered statistical power to use cancer as an endpoint – they are like the canaries in the mine who warned the miners that there was gas.
“Two aspirins a day for a couple of years gives protection that lasts more than 10 years and the statistical analysis has become much stronger with time.
“For people at high cancer risk, the benefits are clear – aspirin works.”
The study has led to a new international trial, with more than 1800 people with Lynch syndrome enrolled to look at whether smaller, safer doses of aspirin can be used to help reduce the cancer risk.
“Aspirin has a major preventative effect on cancer, but this doesn’t become apparent until at least four years later,” Prof. Burn said. “With the help of these dedicated volunteers, we have learned something of value to us all.”
Prof. Burn also warned of aspirin’s side-effects, particularly stomach complaints, such as ulcers and bleeding.
“However, if there is a strong family history of cancer then people may want to weigh up the cost and health benefits of taking aspirin for at least two years,” he said.
If you’re aged between 50 and 74, it’s likely you will have received a free home testing kit from the government. Call the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program Information Line on 1800 118 868 for more information.
Were you aware of the benefits of aspirin? Will you check with the GP as to whether you should be taking a daily dose?
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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.