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Daily aspirin - should we be taking it?

 
27/10/2014 | By Freedom Health Insurance
According to the NHS Choices website, taking regular low-dose aspirin could be beneficial for some people by reducing the risk of having a stroke or heart attack (1). In addition, patients with a suitable medical history may be prescribed regular low-dose aspirin following a stroke or heart attack to help reduce the risks of similar problems reoccurring. But there can be (sometimes serious) side-effects, particularly for people with certain medical conditions, so anyone considering taking regular low-dose aspirin, should seek and follow the advice of their General Practitioner (GP).

For the past few years there has been a great deal of debate amongst medical experts as to whether the protection from strokes and heart attacks that aspirin can provide is worth the increased risk of a gastric bleed for those who have never had any symptoms (2)(3). A recent study may be about to make the case for the widespread use of daily low dose aspirin for many people between the age of 50 and 65.  The research done by the team at the Centre for Cancer Prevention at Queen Mary University of London has suggested that taking 75 mg of aspirin every day for five years or longer, may reduce the risk of some gastric tract cancers (throat, stomach and bowel) by as much as 30% and other common cancers including prostate and breast cancer by up to 10%. This, together with the potential reduction in the risk of heart disease and stroke, may well be worth the increased risk of gastric bleeding (4).

However, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) is reported as being cautious, again reinforcing the danger to some people of stomach bleeding that could be serious and the need for risks to be discussed on an individual basis with a GP.  CRUK is funding a number of trials to determine the optimal duration and dose that will have the greatest impact on reducing cancer deaths and has published advice on the potential for aspirin to stop cancer spreading (5).

Whilst the studies continue, it is up to each of us to decide with our GP if we could benefit from taking this tiny pill as part of our daily routine.

One thing is clear though: there are many factors for a GP to consider when making a recommendation that any particular individual should take a regular low-dose aspirin and the current debate around preventative therapies is likely to continue into the future as more research is carried out and published.

References 
1.  NHS Choices, 2014. Antiplatelets, low-dose aspirin. Available here  
2   Smellie, A., 2012Should you be taking aspirin every day? It can help prevent stroke and heart attacks but which of us really needs a daily dose. Mail Online20 August. Available here.   
3.   Press Association, 2014. Daily aspirin ‘can ward off cancer’. Mail Online, 6 August. Available here. 
4.   Cuzick, J., et al, 2014. Estimates of benefits and harms of prophylactic use of aspirin in the general population. Annals of Oncology, 8 August. Available through Oxford Journals website here.  
5.   Cancer Research UK, 2014. Can aspirin stop my cancer spreading. Available here.