Healthy living

Daily dose of aspirin cuts risk of bowel cancer

Daily dose of aspirin cuts risk of bowel cancer Risk reduced by more than 60 per cent

A daily dose of aspirin can significant reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer, research has found.

A study published in the Lancet journal showed that taking two 600mg tablets of aspirin daily for two years reduced the incidence of bowel cancer by 63 per cent in people who are genetically predisposed to developing the disease.

The scientists looked at the effect of aspirin on the development of bowel cancer in people with Lynch Syndrome, who, because of a genetic anomaly, are 10 times more likely to develop the disease than the general population.

The condition affects around one in 1000 people, and accounts for about 1 in 30 cases of bowel cancer.

The study, known as CAPP2, involved 43 centres in 16 countries, including the UK. Between 1999 and 2005, a total of 861 people with Lynch syndrome began taking either two aspirins (600 mg) or a placebo (dummy pill).

After two years, the study found no difference in the incidence of bowel between those who had taken aspirin and those who had not.

However, five years after the trial had started, 19 people in the aspirin treatment group had developed bowel cancer compared with 34 in the group which had received the placebo, a reduction of 44 per cent.

Sixty per cent of the patients in the treatment group had taken the aspirin for at least two years. When the scientists looked at the incidence of cancer in this group, they found the reduction in bowel cancer incidence was 63 per cent.

Other cancers linked to Lynch syndrome, including cancer of the endometrium and womb, also fell by around half in the group taking aspirin.

Study leader Professor Sir John Burn from Newcastle University estimated that if all 30,000 of the people in the UK with Lynch syndrome were given a daily dose of aspirin, around 10,000 cancers could be prevented in the next 30 years, and some 1,000 lives would be saved.

However, about 1,000 people would also develop stomach ulcers, as a side-effect of aspirin.

Professor Burn said: "We have succeeded in showing the benefits of aspirin because we had a lot of long term data and because Lynch syndrome is associated with rapid development of cancer.

"Before anyone begins to take aspirin on a regular basis they should consult their doctor as aspirin is known to bring with it a risk of stomach complaints including ulcers.

"However, if there is a strong family history of cancer then people may want to weigh up the cost-benefits particularly as these days drugs which block acid production in the stomach are available over the counter."

This article was published on Fri 28 October 2011

Image © Mara Zemgaliete -

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