How can a chemical as simple as aspirin have so many medical uses? Beats me, but here’s another. Anyone taking a baby aspirin (75mg tablet) can feel smug because it won’t just keep your blood healthily thin, it will protect you from bowel cancer.
This tiny pill could slash your risk of bowel cancer by a fifth. Better still, Harvard scientists found that middle-aged people who regularly took a low-dose aspirin (81mg in US) are less likely to be diagnosed with cancer of any kind.
The researchers followed 136,000 people for 32 years, and if their findings were to be applied in Britain, 6,000 cases of bowel, stomach, pancreatic, intestinal and oesophageal cancer could be prevented every year.
So, people with a family history of these cancers should think about taking a low dose of aspirin daily.
Study author Professor Andrew Chan, a cancer expert at Massachusetts General Hospital, US, said: “It would be very reasonable for individuals to discuss with their physicians the advisability of taking aspirin to prevent gastrointestinal cancer, particularly if they have risk factors such as a family history.”
Other risk factors are age, obesity, smoking and eating lots of red meat.
Participants were taking aspirin because of headaches, arthritis or muscle problems, or because their doctor had prescribed the drug to ward off the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The most dramatic effect was on bowel cancer, which affects 41,000 people in Britain every year, where the risk fell by nearly 20%. It’s also possible aspirin may also slow the spread of bowel cancer once it has taken hold. Taking low dose aspirin for at least six years lowered the risk of all cancer.
The experts confessed they don’t know exactly how aspirin works but suspect it may be because it reduces levels of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which promotes tumour formation.
Mark Flannagan from Beating Bowel Cancer said: “This and previous research has suggested that taking aspirin might reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer. However, we recommend that you consult your GP before undertaking any course of treatment due to the possible side effects.”
Nicola Smith of Cancer Research UK added: “This study adds to what we know about the potential for long-term aspirin use to reduce the risk of cancer, particularly bowel cancer, though it didn’t consider the risk of side effects such as internal bleeding.
“We need to understand more about who would get the best benefits and risks of side effects, how much aspirin they should take, and for how long.”