In a groundbreaking study, aspirin – an everyday pain-reliever – reduced cancer of the large bowel by 50 percent. The international trial – known as CAPP2 – involved patients with Lynch syndrome from around the world and revealed that two aspirins a day, for an average of two and a half years, reduced the rate of bowel cancer by half. Lynch syndrome is a type of inherited cancer syndrome associated with a genetic predisposition to different cancer types.
The study, led by experts at the Universities of Newcastle and Leeds, published in The Lancet, is a planned double blind 10 year follow–up, supplemented in more than half of recruits with comprehensive national cancer registry data for up to 20 years.
Professor Sir John Burn, from Newcastle University and Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who led the research, said the findings further support this important guidance.
He said: “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.
“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.
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“It took a long time to start the trial and to recruit enough people in 16 countries, but this study has finally given us an answer.
“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. Our new international trial, CaPP3, will see if smaller doses work just as well.”
Findings showed that when all original recruits were included in the study, those on aspirin had 42 percent fewer colon cancers.
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Among those who took the aspirin for a full two years, there were 50 percent fewer colon cancers.
The study involved 861 patients with Lynch syndrome, which affects about one in 200 people in the population. These people have a genetic problem with DNA repair, making them at much higher risk of cancers such as bowel and womb.
A group of 427 were randomised to aspirin continuously for two years and 434 were allocated to a placebo and then they were all followed for 10 years. Out of those given two aspirins each day (600mg) there were 18 fewer colon cancers, representing a drop of 42.6 percent.
When all 163 Lynch syndrome cancers are included in the analysis – such as cancer of the endometrium or womb – there was an overall reduced risk of cancer of 24 percent in those taking aspirin, or 37 percent in those who took aspirin for the full two years.
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Professor Sir John said: “Aspirin has a major preventative effect on cancer but this doesn’t become apparent until at least four years later. With the help of these dedicated volunteers we have learned something of value to us all.
“Before anyone begins to take aspirin on a regular basis they should consult their doctor first as aspirin is known to bring with it a risk of stomach complaints, including 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.”
What Cancer Research UK says
There is some evidence showing that aspirin may help lower the risk of:
- Getting some cancers
- Cancer spreading
- People dying from cancer.
“But, at the moment, there are no national guidelines for the general population to take aspirin to prevent or treat cancer,” notes the charity.
Cancer Research UK also highlights the potential risks posed by taking aspirin: “There are risks with taking aspirin, as there are with all medicines. It can cause serious side effects for some people, such as internal bleeding.
“There are also other reasons why some people can’t take aspirin, for example, due to other health conditions (contraindications).”
As the charity explains, some people with cancer already have a higher than normal risk of bleeding. Others might have a higher risk of developing blood clots.
What does Cancer Research UK recommend?
“Talk about the risks with your doctor if you’re thinking of taking aspirin.”