Patients should be taking aspirin to help treat their cancer once they have been screened for a bacterium that increases the chances of stomach bleeds, according to a cancer expert.
Professor Jack Cuzick, who runs the Centre for Cancer Prevention at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London told the BBC’s Newsnight programme last night (July 16) of his support for the use of aspirin in this area.
If the UK was to carry out a mass-screening programme for 50- to 70-year-olds, this could significantly cut the risk of stomach bleeds due to daily doses of aspirin, sometimes a side effect of the drug, he argued.
About a third of this age group carry the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which makes stomach bleeds three times more likely and antibiotics eradicate it.
Research has shown taking low-doses of aspirin can cut the risk of cancer, but it is not currently recommended by doctors because of the risks of side effects such as bleeding.
Professor Cuzick said screening would make the choice to take aspirin an easy one and said on the programme: “The test is cheap and very easy to do, and eradication takes only five days. Bleeding is the only major setback. It's trying to identify those who are infected that matters.”
An international team of experts on cancer prevention is expected to publish a statement on the risks and benefits of long-term aspirin use within weeks and Professor Cuzick said: “We will say this looks very important and needs to be further evaluated.”
Data published two years ago by Peter Rothwell, from the University of Oxford indicated that patients taking low-dose aspirin for five years halved their risk of developing colon cancer.
Last year, other research suggested that daily low-dose aspirin reduced the risk of dying by 66% for oesophageal cancer and 25% for lung cancer.
Currently, low-dose aspirin is recommended as a way of reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke, but there are no national guidelines on taking it to prevent cancer.
Jessica Harris, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Research has shown that regularly taking low doses of aspirin can reduce the risk of developing and dying from cancer. But aspirin has a range of serious side-effects, including internal bleeding, and at the moment it’s not clear whether the benefits would outweigh the harms, or which group of people are most likely to benefit.
“An expert group is reviewing the evidence and when their results are available, it may be possible to make a recommendation about the use of aspirin. People should consult their doctors before deciding to take aspirin regularly, because there are common conditions and medications which can mean that it may not be suitable for everyone.”