Many South Africans take low-dose aspirin every day for heart health. In doing so, they may also slightly lower their risk of dying from several cancers, a large new study suggests.
Researchers found that among more than 130 000 adults, those who regularly used aspirin were 7% to 11% less likely to die of cancer over the next few decades.
The risks of dying from colon, breast, lung and, for men, prostate cancer and were all lower among regular aspirin users, compared to non-users, the findings showed.
The findings add to evidence that aspirin has cancer-fighting abilities, the researchers said. But they also stressed that people should not start popping a daily aspirin in the hopes of avoiding cancer.
Lower risk of colon cancer
There is strong evidence, from research in general, that low-dose aspirin may lower the risk of colon cancer, said Dr Ernest Hawk, a professor at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) already recommends that certain older adults consider taking low-dose aspirin to curb their risk of colon cancer – as well as heart disease. The South African Heart and Stroke Foundation agrees with these guidelines.
Specifically, the task force suggests that people in their 50s and 60s talk to their doctor about whether the benefits of daily aspirin outweigh the risks.
'Talk to your doctor'
Consulting your doctor is important, said Hawk, who wasn't involved in the new study.
For one, he said, aspirin has risks, such as stomach bleeding and haemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke. So people need to discuss those potential harms with their doctor.
Plus, even within the 50-to-69 age group, not everyone stands to benefit from aspirin to the same degree. The task force recommends that low-dose aspirin (typically 81 mg a day) be considered only for people at increased risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years.
Yin Cao, the lead researcher on the new study, agreed that people should not start using aspirin without talking to their doctor.
She said her findings "add evidence to support the USPSTF recommendation on colon cancer."
But research has been more mixed regarding breast, prostate and lung cancers. And, the new findings don't prove that aspirin use prevents those diseases, said Cao, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston.
The study included more than 130 000 US health professionals who were followed for up to 32 years. They were asked about their aspirin use at the outset, and again every two years.
Nearly 13 000 study participants died of cancer over the next few decades. But the risks were somewhat lower for regular aspirin users, the study authors said.
The biggest difference was seen with colon cancer: Aspirin users were about 30% less likely to die of the disease.
In addition, women who used aspirin were 11% less likely to die of breast cancer, while men showed a 23% lower risk of dying from prostate cancer and a 14% lower risk of lung cancer death.