According to a new paper, around 130,000 deaths from cancer could be prevented in the U.K. alone if 50- to 64-year-olds simply took a low-dose aspirin each day for ten years, the Guardian reports. Taking aspirin, the researchers said, seems to be the most important lifestyle factor after stopping smoking and reducing obesity for lowering cancer risk.
The Queen Mary University of London researchers behind the findings examined the results of more than 200 studies that investigated the potential benefits and harms of regularly taking aspirin, the BBC reports. Aspirin is known to reduce some cancer risk as well as heart attack risk, but it can also cause potentially fatal stomach bleeds. Until now, the medical community has been unsure about whether or not taking aspirin as a therapeutic preventative medication was worth that risk.
The results of the analysis showed that aspirin reduces the risk of death by stomach, bowel and oesophageal cancer by up to 40 percent, the BBC says. Risk of death by breast, prostate and lung cancer was also reduced, but to a lower extent. The beneficial effects, the researchers said, require at least five to 10 years of regular aspirin-taking. Those effects, however, will roll over if a person stops taking aspirin after 10 years, for example.
Aspirin also reduces risk of having a heart attack or dying of a heart attack, the team found. However, while it reduces the risk of having a stroke, it increases the risk of death from stroke by 21 percent, the Guardian explains. It also increased the risk of stomach bleeds among 60-year-olds from 2.2 percent to 3.6 percent. As the BBC puts it, while well over 100,000 lives could be saved if 50-to-64-year-olds took aspirin, around 18,000 lives would be lost due to the side effects. Ultimately, the researchers think that the risk is outweighed by the potential benefits, although they especially advise persons who drink or smoke heavily or who are at high risk of bleeding to speak with their doctor before beginning a long-term aspirin regime, the BBC writes.