Bowel cancer protection from aspirin unclear
NHS Choices Behind the Headlines, 2012
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It's unclear why aspirin users survived bowel cancer for longer
The risk of dying from bowel cancer can be “slashed by taking an aspirin a day”, according to the Daily Mirror.
The news is based on a large Dutch study that examined the medical records of bowel cancer patients to see whether they had used aspirin prior to and after diagnosis.
It found that those who used aspirin frequently after their diagnosis had a 33% greater chance of surviving for at least nine months than patients who had not been prescribed the drug or who only used the drug infrequently after diagnosis.
The association between aspirin and improved survival rates was strongest in elderly patients who were not having chemotherapy.
The findings of this large study are of note, and add to those of a growing number of studies looking at whether the humble aspirin pill can prevent or treat cancer.
However, the design of this particular study means it cannot prove that aspirin reduces the risk of dying in patients diagnosed with bowel cancer.
One important limitation is the likelihood that many of the patients in the study were taking prescribed aspirin as a treatment for heart disease and stroke rather than for bowel cancer, which might distort the survival rates seen.
Controlled trials comparing aspirin users to similar participants not using the drug will be needed to prove any benefit of aspirin for bowel cancer.
Aspirin can have side effects, including intestinal bleeding, and in cancer patients it can increase the chances of complications before surgery and other cancer treatments.