Three reasons why aspirin may not be the great cancer fighter after all
Think twice before you start popping an aspirin every day to reduce your cancer risk – the research is flawed, it fails to take into account the true harm that the drug causes, and the real benefits aren’t anywhere near as powerful as the media frenzy has suggested.
A new study by Prof Peter Rothwell at the Stoke Prevention Research Unit at Oxford University states that taking an aspirin a day could reduce your risk of cancer within three years of starting the therapy. That’s a reduction of seven years on his earlier study, published in 2010, that had suggested protective benefits would be seen only after 10 years of daily aspirin use.
But there’s a lot wrong with Prof Rothwell’s latest research. The findings are based on a re-analysis of around 90 previously published studies – and yet, for some reason, he didn’t include several major US trials, which involved a total of 66,000 people, that had failed to find any protective effect from aspirin.
The average dose of the studies he did look at was way above the 75 mg recommended ‘safe’ dose. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a safe dose when it comes to aspirin: while everyone knows that the drug can cause gastro-intestinal (GI) bleeding, the harm it causes is invariably under-estimated because nobody reports the fact they are taking the drug. Researchers from Virginia Medical School, who looked at medical records of patients who had died in hospital, reckoned that the drug is killing around 20,000 in the US alone, deaths that are never recorded.
Aspirin is also an unsuspected cause of stroke in the over-75s, said one study based on an astonishing piece of medical detective work. The author? One Prof Peter Rothwell.
And when you introduce healthier lifestyle choices, such as a better diet and more exercise, any benefits of aspirin almost entirely disappear.
(Source: The Lancet, March 21, 2012; doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61720-0).