According to scientists, middle-aged adults should consider taking a dose of aspirin every day for a period of ten years as this could save in excess of 6000 lives annually by preventing heart disease and cancer.
The biggest, most comprehensive analysis of aspirin’s use indicated that a daily dose is able to prevent about one third of cancers of the stomach, throat and bowel and can reduce the risk of death by 50%.
This report comes after previous research raised concerns about the side effects of the drug, which includes ulcers and bleeding.
The new study discovered that there was a low increased risk of stomach bleeding, ulcers and stroke, but the benefits linked to the drug makes it worthwhile.
According to the experts once can view taking aspirin in the same light as taking out a pension plan. It is an investment during middle age to provide benefits later on.
The advice to middle-aged people to take drugs to prevent disease later has been a controversial one with some people warning about medicalising old age. Most people who take aspirin will not experience any benefit or harm from it.
However, the researchers state that daily aspirin is the most important method of preventing cancer after losing weight or quitting smoking. They say that everyone in the age group between 50 and 64 should take a baby aspirin every day for ten years.
It was found that this would save 6518 lives from cancer annually and prevent 474 fatal heart attacks, but it would cost an additional 896 deaths from ulcers, stomach bleeding and stroke.
The researchers at Queen Mary University of London found that over two decades, the net number of saved lives in the UK would be almost 122000.
Professor Jack Cuzick said that anyone who is at risk of bleeding should discuss their options with their GP before taking aspirin. He said the benefits of taking the drug for a period exceeding ten years is not clear and, in those aged over 70, the risk of bleeding was increased. He added that the beneficial effects of taking the drug lasted for years after stopping it.
He added that while there are serious side effects linked to the drug, taking it appears to be the most important thing to reduce cancer after one has stopped smoking or reduced obesity and is much easier to implement.
He said the smart person would both improve their lifestyle and take aspirin, however you cannot improve your lifestyle to the point where the drug is unnecessary.
He added that if the odds of preventing a death are much larger than causing death, it is a good bet and at this point it is felt that taking aspirin is a good bet.
He stated that the figures in the research were conservative and the benefits may indeed be greater and the risks lower than suggested.
Cancer Research UK partly funded the study and its head of health information, Dr Julie Sharp, said that aspirin is showing promise in the prevention of certain cancer types, but it is critical that it is balanced with the potential complications.
She said that before the drug can be recommended for cancer prevention important questions need to be answered and tests developed to predict the likely side effects.
Cancer Research UK is funding several research projects and trials to get a clear picture.
According to Professor Cuzick the recommended dosage is 75mg per day and the risk of internal bleeding linked to aspirin can be reduced by one third by doing tests and offering treatment to anyone who is found to be carrying H.pylori in their stomach.
The study analysed in excess of 200 research papers on the effects of the drug on heart disease and cancer. It was found that for every 1000 people who take the drug for 20 years, 17 lives would be saved and two deaths caused.
Several of those involved in the analysis declared their link to the pharmaceutical industry connected with aspirin, but stated that their research did not represent their organisations.
Image Credit: Tom Small