Aspirin could have life saving impact on potential bowel cancer sufferers
Thousands of lives could be saved if people with a particular hereditary condition took aspirin daily, suggests the British-led study.
Scientists have described the results, published in The Lancet, as “the icing on the cake” after more than two decades of research into aspirin’s effect on cancer.
Today’s study specifically looks at the preventative effect in those with a hereditary condition called Lynch Syndrome, thought to affect about 60,000 people in Britain. Despite being present in only one in 1,000 people, it is responsible for one in 30 bowel cancers.
But the researchers said the study added powerful new evidence that aspirin protected against bowel cancer in the wider population too.
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Britain, with 40,000 new cases annually and over 16,000 deaths.
The study of 861 middle-aged people with Lynch Syndrome found those who took two 300mg pills daily for two years, were 63 per cent less likely to have developed bowel cancer five years later, than those given a placebo.
The results are critical for those with the syndrome because their lifetime risk of developing bowel cancer is as high as one in two.
Professor Sir John Burn from Newcastle University, who led the international project, said he and colleagues were “very pleased” with the “impressive” results.
He and Professor Tim Bishop, of Leeds University, suggested those with Lynch Syndrome should start taking aspirin from the age of 20, as they can develop cancers well before middle age.
They estimated that, excluding the young and the very old, about 30,000 of them should be taking aspirin.
Prof Burn said: “If we were to put them on aspirin now, we would stop about 10,000 cancers over 30 years.”
However, only about 10 per cent of those with Lynch Syndrome know they have it.
The results follow a landmark study led by Professor Peter Rothwell of Oxford University, published a year ago.
It found people taking low dose (75mg) aspirin daily for five years were 25 per cent less likely to have developed bowel cancer after 20 years than those not taking it.
The participants had been taking the drug to prevent heart disease and stroke. They were drawn from the general population, not just those with Lynch Syndrome.
Prof Rothwell consequently suggested everybody should consider taking low dose aspirin daily from the age of 45, although he said it was a matter for individuals to decide “rather than us making definitive statements”.
Professors Burn and Bishop echoed that advice. They have already advised their patients and volunteers with Lynch Syndrome to take aspirin, and said others needed to consider the “sliding scale” of aspirin’s benefits and risks depending on their circumstances.
The drug is known to increase slightly the chance of stomach and intestinal ulcers, particularly in the elderly.
While Prof Rothwell’s work convinced many that aspirin helped prevent cancer, because it was an observational study it could not prove cause and effect.
Today’s study was different, said Prof Burn, being “the first randomised controlled trial [of aspirin] undertaken with cancer as an end point”.
The group now aims to determine the best dose for those with Lynch Syndrome and wants to recruit 3,000 people around the world to do so. They will be given either 600, 300, or 75mg daily.
David Willetts, the Universities and Science Minister, welcomed the “groundbreaking study” as “an excellent achievement for the UK research base”.
He said: “It has the potential to save thousands of lives worldwide and is clear evidence of the value of long-term studies showing simple steps that can be taken to improve people’s lives.”
*The NHS will have to deal with 45 per cent more cancer cases by 2030, a leading charity is warning.
Cancer Research UK predicts the number will climb from about 298,000 in 2007 in 432,000 in 2030, which could “overwhelm NHS resources”.
The biggest reason behind the rise is the ageing population, but changing lifestyles are also a factor. Cancers of the mouth, kidney and liver are forecast to be among the biggest risers, due in part to smoking and drinking.
As published on the telegraph.co.uk website.