New study suggests daily aspirin could reduce risk of dying from bowel cancer by 30%

A European study has found that bowel cancer patients who take a low daily dose of aspirin could reduce their risk of dying from the disease by up to 30%.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, studied 4,500 bowel cancer patients living in The Netherlands over almost a decade.

A quarter of the patients in the study did not use aspirin, a quarter took aspirin after being diagnosed with bowel cancer, and the remaining half took aspirin both before and after their diagnosis. All patients taking aspirin were given a low dose of 80mg or less a day.

The results found that those patients who took aspirin after their diagnosis had the most reduced risk of dying from bowel cancer. Bowel cancer patients who took aspirin for at least nine months after their diagnosis reduced their chance of dying from the disease by 30%. Patients who took aspirin for any length of time after their diagnosis were still found to have a 23% reduction in risk of dying from the disease.  

Interestingly, the study found that those patients who were already taking aspirin before diagnosis and continued after had only a 12% reduced risk of death from bowel cancer. The researchers have speculated that this may be because those who took aspirin and still got bowel cancer had a particularly aggressive form of tumour that did not respond as well to aspirin.

But experts say it is too soon to start routinely offering it for bowel cancer.

Lead researcher Dr Gerrit-Jan Liefers, of the Leiden University Medical Centre, said: "Our work adds to growing evidence that aspirin not only can prevent cancer from occurring but if it is there it can help prevent it spreading."

"It's possible that some older people may have other health problems which mean that they are not well enough to have chemotherapy. Bowel cancer is more common in older people so these results could be a big advance in treatment of the disease, particularly in this group. But we need further research to confirm this."

The researchers now plan to hold a randomised controlled trial to study daily aspirin in bowel cancer patient aged over 70 compared to placebo.  

Mark Flannagan said, “This study supports the wealth of evidence out there that suggests aspirin may play an important role in reducing our risk of developing, and now dying from, bowel cancer.

However this is a relatively small trial and more work is needed before daily aspirin can be recommended to patients and those at risk of developing bowel cancer.   

Aspirin can have dangerous side effects so anyone thinking of taking aspirin to cut their risk of cancer should talk to their GP first.

In the meantime, anyone looking to lower their risk of developing bowel cancer should reduce their intake of red and processed meat, high fat foods and alcohol, and increase their intake of fruit, vegetables and fibre, take regular moderate exercise and stop smoking.”

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