Healthy living

Daily aspirin cuts bowel cancer deaths

Daily aspirin reduces bowel cancer patient death by a third Reduces the risk of dying by nearly a third

Taking a daily aspirin after being diagnosed with bowel cancer can reduce the chance of dying from the disease by nearly a third, according to new research.

Patients who took a daily dose of aspirin - 80mg - for at least nine months after being diagnosed with the disease cut their chance of dying by 30 per cent, a Dutch study found.

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK. Each year, around 41,000 people are diagnosed with the disease, and around 16,000 die from it. It is the second most common cause of cancer death after lung cancer.

[Related feature: Bowel cancer: don't sit on your symptoms]

Previous studies have shown that taking a daily dose of aspirin for several years can help to lower the risk of developing a number of cancers, including bowel and oesophageal cancers.

But this latest research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, looked at the use of aspirin as a treatment for bowel cancer.

The study involved 4,500 bowel cancer in the Netherlands diagnosed between 1998 and 2007.

A quarter of the patients were not aspirin users, a further quarter took aspirin after being diagnosed with bowel cancer and the remaining half took aspirin both before and after being diagnosed with the disease.

The researchers found that patients who took aspirin for any length of time after being diagnosed with bowel cancer were 23 per cent less likely to die from it compared with patients who took no aspirin at all.

Patients who took aspirin and still got bowel cancer could have had a particularly aggressive form of tumour that did not respond as well to aspirin, the researchers said.

Study leader Dr Gerrit-Jan Liefers, from the Leiden University Medical Centre, said: "Our findings could have profound clinical implications. In this study, we showed the therapeutic effect of a widely-available, familiar drug that costs mere pennies per day.

"It's possible that some older people may have other health problems which mean that they are not well enough to have chemotherapy," he said.

"Bowel cancer is more common in older people so these results could be a big advance in treatment of the disease, particularly in this group. But we need further research to confirm this."

The research team are planning to start a randomised controlled trial across the Netherlands later this year, specifically targeting the over-70s population.

Sarah Lyness, executive director policy and information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This latest study adds to the growing evidence about the benefits of aspirin.

"But we are not yet at the point where we would recommend people start taking aspirin to reduce their chances of developing cancer.

"There are still questions we need to answer about the side effects, such as internal bleeding, who might benefit most from taking aspirin, who might be harmed, what dose and how long some people might want to take it for.

"Anyone thinking of taking aspirin to cut their risk of cancer should talk to their GP first. People with cancer should be aware that aspirin can increase the chances of complications before surgery or other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and should discuss this with their specialist.

"In the meantime, there are many ways we can take to lower our risk of developing cancer - not smoking, cutting back on alcohol and keeping a healthy weight can help stack the odds in our favour."

This article was published on Wed 25 April 2012

Image © Mara Zemgaliete -

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