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Patients at high risk of cancer could be told to take aspirin: Taking tablet regularly 'can cut risk of developing disease by a third'
00:08 GMT, 12 December 2012
Professor Sir Mike Richards said that the odds of survival for lung cancer have'barely been improving' over the last five years
Patients at high risk of developing cancer could be prescribed regular doses of aspirin under plans to tackle the rising number of cases.
There is widespread evidence that taking the painkiller on a daily basis can cut the chances of developing the illness by up to a third.
Next year, ministers will consider whether certain patients at risk of some cancers should be prescribed aspirin as a preventative measure.
The painkiller has been shown to be particularly effective against bowel cancer – one of the most common forms of the disease – particularly if patients have a family history of the illness.
But it also causes stomach bleeds and ulcers, which are not usually fatal but often require hospital treatment.
As such, doctors would need to weigh up whether the protective benefits of aspirin outweighed its side-effects. They may decide to recommend it only to those at high risk of bowel cancer, for example, those who have a strong family history.
The plan emerged as the Government’s cancer director warned that survival rates still lag behind other western countries, despite drastic efforts to improve diagnosis and treatment.
Professor Sir Mike Richards said that the odds of survival for lung cancer – the most common form – have ‘barely been improving’ over the last five years.
Ministers have previously estimated that 11,400 lives could be saved in Britain each year if our cancer survival rates matched those elsewhere in Europe.
Ministers will shortly consider whether prescribing aspirin could help slow the increase in cases of cancer
Last year, the former health secretary Andrew Lansley pledged to narrow the gap by investing 800million to raise awareness and give GPs better access to tests.
He said that if these improvements were made, an extra 5,000 lives would be saved a year by 2014.
But in a report published by the Department of Health, Professor Richards said that apart from in breast cancer, ‘we are not narrowing the gap’.
As for lung cancer, he said there had been ‘little change’ in the number of preventable deaths occurring each year.
His report said there were now 269,000 new cases of cancer a year, up by 4,000 compared with last year. But the report also said that ministers will shortly consider whether prescribing aspirin could help slow this increase.
Early next year, a group of international scientists will publish research that is expected to confirm its preventative effect – particularly for bowel cancer.
Professor Richards said when it comes to lung cancer, there has been 'little change' in the number of preventable deaths occurring each year
Ministers are likely to look at this latest evidence and consider whether NHS guidelines should be changed so that certain patients are advised to take regular aspirin.
A Department of Health spokesman said they could not confirm any further details at this stage.
Jessica Harris, of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Research suggests 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, what the right dose might be, or which group of people are most likely to benefit.
‘An expert group is reviewing the evidence with the aim of providing greater clarity about whether there are groups of people who might benefit from taking aspirin.’