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Aspirin: cancer-fighting benefits uncertain

NHS Choices Behind the Headlines, 2012

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Aspirin for cancer: the benefits may not outweigh the risks
“Taking a low dose of aspirin every day can prevent and possibly even treat cancer,” BBC News today reported.
The household painkiller is already taken by thousands to cut their risk of heart attacks and strokes, but new, widely reported research has suggested it may have a role in fighting cancer.
In three research papers published simultaneously, doctors and researchers looked at cancer data recorded during dozens of trials testing aspirin for heart and circulatory health.
They found that daily use of aspirin was linked to a drop in the short-term risk of developing cancer and could reduce both the risk of cancers spreading around the body and the risk of death due to cancer.
However, given that the trials were not originally designed to see whether aspirin would reduce people’s risks of cancer we cannot be sure that the drug’s potential cancer-fighting benefits are not outweighed by its known side-effects.
For example, aspirin can cause painful stomach irritation and there is a small but important risk of serious bleeds associated with its use.
Therefore, until there have been dedicated studies, it is too soon to recommend that people should start taking daily aspirin unless it has been recommended to them by a doctor.
Overall, aspirin is a highly effective medical treatment when used appropriately, but it is not yet a drug that should be taken unsupervised on a daily basis, even at low doses.
Although first created to act simply as a painkiller, aspirin is now routinely used to treat and prevent a range of health problems.