Middle aged people who swallow an aspirin a day can cut down the risk of bowel cancer by a fifth, according to a recent study in the US.
It’s long been understood that aspirin has a number of health benefits, particularly for treating cardiovascular disease, but this is the first time researchers have categorically found health benefits involving aspirin and bowel cancer.
American scientists at Harvard University tracked more than 135,000 people over 30 years to uncover a positive link between aspirin and bowel cancer. For the study, men and women took a standard 325mg dose of aspirin each week and were reported on every two years.
The research on the aspirin and bowel cancer link involved looking at the results from two US based cohort studies, the Nurses’ Health Study between 1980 and 2010, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, 1986 to 2012. American Scientists concluded that a low daily dose of aspirin reduced bowel cancer by up to 20%.
The people involved in the study were taking aspirin regularly to ward off headaches, muscular problems or arthritis, or their doctors had prescribed the drug as a possible remedy for heart problems.
Researchers in the UK believe that if the study linking aspirin and bowel cancer is applied to British people, more than 6,000 lives could be saved each year. Some 40,000 people in the UK are affected by bowel cancer annually and taking a low dosage of aspirin can even slow the spread of bowel cancer after a person is diagnosed with the disease. Furthermore, people with a family history of bowel cancer have been recommended to take a low daily dose of aspirin to ward off the disease.
Despite the positive benefits of links between aspirin and bowel cancer, researchers did highlight several limitations. These included the possibility that regular use of aspirin carries the risk of stomach problems, including stomach ulcers and bleeding. It now needs to be discovered exactly the dose of aspirin required, how long it needs to be taken for and the balance between the risk and benefit for preventing bowel cancer before any firm recommendations for the use of aspirin can be made.
It's very important if patients are considering starting aspirin to prevent bowel cancer that they fully discuss the risks and benefits with their doctors.
The authors of the research admitted they weren’t sure exactly about the beneficial links between aspirin and bowel cancer, but believe it could be the result of a reduction in levels of cyclooxygenase, an enzyme that can be important in developing tumours in the body.
Despite the encouraging potential of aspirin there it is still vital that everyone continues to participate in the national bowel cancer screening program.
It's also important to be aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer and to seek medical advice as soon as possible:
- Bleeding from the back passage or blood in your stool.
- A change in normal bowel habits.
- A pain or lump in the abdomen.
- Losing weight.
- Excessive tiredness
Always remember that if caught early, bowel cancer can be cured.