A daily dose of aspirin for over-60s can cut their risk of cancer by up to 40 per cent and may offer protection after just a few years, researchers claim.
A study of more than 100,000 healthy people found that those who took a dose of aspirin every day were two fifths less likely to develop and die from stomach, oesophageal or colorectal cancer in the following decade.
They also had a 12 per cent lower risk of dying from other cancers, adding up to an overall 16 per cent lower risk of death from cancer of any type.
Although earlier research had found similar results, the new paper adds to the evidence in favour of taking the drug as a protective measure.
Doctors have previously called for low doses of aspirin to be taken from middle age, especially for people with a family history of cancer or heart disease, which it is also thought to protect against.
The authors of the latest study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, said: "Even a relatively modest benefit with respect to overall cancer mortality could still meaningfully influence the balances of risks and benefits of prophylactic (protective) aspirin use."
The researchers, from the American Cancer Society, studied data on more than 100,000 healthy men and women, most of whom were over 60, and questioned them about their use of aspirin at regular intervals over the next decade.
They found that those who used aspirin every day were less likely to die from cancer in the following eleven years, with the biggest effect on cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.
Unlike previous research, the study found there was no difference between patients who had been taking the drug daily for less than five years, and those whose use was longer-term.
Referencing a separate study, the scientists said there was "some suggestion" the protective effect of aspirin could begin within three years of daily use.
In an editorial accompanying the article Dr John Baron of North Carolina University said the health benefit of aspirin estimated by the study could be "conservative", adding: "The drug clearly reduces the incidence and mortality from luminal gastrointestinal cancers, and it may similarly affect other cancers."
But Dr Eric Jacobs, who led the study, emphasised people should not take aspirin every day before discussing the potential side effects, such as stomach bleeds, with their doctors.
He said: "Although recent evidence about aspirin use and cancer is encouraging, it is still premature to recommend people start taking aspirin specifically to prevent cancer.
"Even low-dose aspirin can substantially increase the risk of serious gastrointestinal bleeding. Decisions about aspirin use should be made by balancing the risks against the benefits in the context of each individual's medical history."
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