Aspirin cuts cancer deaths

Women with breast cancer who take aspirin at least twice a week can more than double their chance of surviving, researchers say.

The greatest protection comes from taking the drug two, three, four or five times a week, a study has found. They cut the risk of dying by 71 per cent and the risk of the cancer spreading by 60 per cent. Taking aspirin on six or seven days cut the death risk by 64 per cent, but the risk of spreading fell only 43 per cent. The findings of the U.S. study provide the most compelling evidence yet of the power of the cheap painkiller.

Previous research has suggested that aspirin can protect against bowel cancer, although results for other cancers, such as breast and prostate, were less clear-cut. The latest dramatic results came from a 30-year project tracking the health of 238,000 nurses. Lead researcher Dr Michelle Holmes, of Harvard Medical School, said: ‘This is the first study to find that aspirin can significantly reduce the risk of cancer spread and death for women who have been treated for early-stage breast cancer.

‘If these findings are confirmed in other clinical trials, taking aspirin may become another simple, low-cost and relatively safe tool to help women with breast cancer live longer, healthier lives.’ Drugs in the same class as aspirin, including ibuprofen and naproxen, also lowered the risks, but paracetamol did not. Experts warned, however, that aspirin can have serious side effects, including stomach irritation that can lead to ulcers and even fatal bleeding. For some people the risk of harm is greater than potential benefits. Women newly diagnosed with breast cancer are advised not to take aspirin for the first 12 months as it can cause side effects while they undergo chemotherapy or radiation.

Researchers are uncertain exactly how aspirin affects tumours but it could be by lowering inflammation. The study found that there were no beneficial effects for people who took aspirin only once a week. Ed Yong, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Several studies have found that taking aspirin and related drugs is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer, and this new study suggests that they might also help to stop cancer from spreading and improve a woman’s chances of survival. But aspirin has risks as well as benefits, so we need large clinical trials to see if it can really save lives from breast cancer, and, if so, to work out what doses to use and how long to use the drugs for.’

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