Every middle aged person should take aspirin daily for ten years, experts have said, as a comprehensive study has found it could save 6,000 lives a year by preventing cancer and heart disease .
Middle-aged adults should take aspirin every day for ten years, according to scientists who found it could save more than 6,000 lives a year by preventing cancer and heart disease
Daily aspirin can prevent up to one third of cancers of the bowel, throat and stomach and can halve the risk of dying in some cases, according to the the largest, most comprehensive analysis of the drugs use.
It comes after previous research raised concerns about the side effects of aspirin, which include bleeding and ulcers.
The new study found that while there was a small increased risk of a stroke, stomach bleeding and ulcers, the benefits of taking aspirin made it a “good bet”.
Experts said on balance taking aspirin was akin to taking out a pension, in that it was an investment in middle age that provided benefits later.
Advising otherwise healthy middle-aged people to take drugs to prevent later disease has proven controversial with some warning about medicalising old age. The majority of people taking aspirin would not see any benefit nor any harm from it.
Nevertheless the researchers said daily aspirin is now the most important way to prevent cancer after quitting smoking and losing weight.
Everyone aged between 50 and 64 should take a baby aspirin daily for ten years, they said.
This would save 6,518 lives from cancer per year, along with preventing 474 fatal heart attacks, but at the cost of causing an extra 896 deaths from stroke, stomach bleeding and ulcers, it was found.
Over 20 years the net number of lives saved would be almost 122,000 in the UK, the researchers from Queen Mary University of London found.
Anyone at high risk of bleeding should talk to their GP before taking aspirin, Prof Jack Cuzick said, including those on blood thinning drugs, with diabetes or smokers.
He said the benefits of taking aspirin for longer than ten years were more unclear and that the increased risk of bleeding was enhanced in those aged over 70. However the beneficial effects of aspirin last for years after stopping the drug, he added.
Prof Cuzick said: “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.
“The wise person would do both, improve their lifestyle and take aspirin but you can’t improve your lifestyle to the point that aspirin isn’t necessary.
“If the odds of preventing a death are substantially bigger than causing a death, then I think it is a good bet and at this stage we feel aspirin is a good bet.”
He said the figures included in the analysis were conservative and the benefits may be greater and the harms lower than suggested.
The study was partly funded by Cancer Research UK.
Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Aspirin is showing promise in preventing certain types of cancer, but it’s vital that we balance this with the complications it can cause – such as bleeding, stomach ulcers, or even strokes in some people.
“Before aspirin can be recommended for cancer prevention some important questions need to be answered, including what is the best dose and how long people should take it for. And tests need to be developed to predict who is likely to have side effects.
“Given the continued uncertainty over who should take aspirin, Cancer Research UK is funding a number of trials and research projects to make the picture clearer.
“Anyone thinking of taking aspirin should speak to their GP first.”
Prof Cuzick said the recommended dose was 75mg per day and that the risk of internal bleeding associated with aspirin could be cut by around one third by testing and treating anyone found to be carrying the infection, H.pylori in their stomachs.
The study, published in the Annals of Oncology looked at more than 200 research papers of different designs on the effects of aspirin on cancer and heart disease.
It as concluded that for every 1,000 people taking aspirin for 20 years there would be 17 lives saved and two deaths caused.
Several of the authors of the analysis declared that they have worked for the pharmaceutical industry connected to aspirin but that the findings and conclusions in the study do not represent their respective organisations.