A DAILY dose of aspirin could help prevent cancer, according to a major new study. New evidence shows the drug's anti-cancer benefits may even be bigger than its protective effect on the heart.
Research suggests that low daily doses of the painkiller may not only prevent cancer occurring, but also slow its progress.
One study showed that taking aspirin reduced the risk of developing cancer by about a quarter after just three years.
From five years onwards, it cut the risk of dying from cancer by 37pc.
Another series of research papers showed that aspirin reduced the chances of cancer spreading instead of staying in one place by almost 50pc.
The deadly spread, or metastasis, of tumours to organs such as the liver and brain is usually what kills cancer patients.
Many people take a low 75mg dose of aspirin each day to guard against heart attacks and strokes.
Experts advise against this for "healthy" individuals at no special risk of heart and artery disease because of the possible long-term side effects of aspirin.
The drug, which prevents blood clotting, can increase the likelihood of internal bleeding in the stomach, intestines and brain. In some cases, such as pregnant women at risk of high blood pressure, the benefits of taking aspirin are said to outweigh the risks.
However, to date cancer has not been part of this calculation.
Research leader Professor Peter Rothwell from Oxford University said: "It's certainly time to add prevention of cancer into the analysis of the balance of risk and benefits of aspirin. So far, all the guidelines have just been based on the prevention of strokes and heart attacks.
"This research really shows that the cancer benefit is as large, if not larger, than the benefit in terms of preventing heart attacks and strokes. It does change the equation quite drastically."
The studies are published in medical journal The Lancet.
For one study, Prof Rothwell's team analysed data from more than 77,000 patients taking part in 51 randomised trials looking at aspirin's effect on rates of heart attacks and strokes. Taking daily low-dose aspirin reduced the risk of cancer death by 15pc overall.
For patients taking aspirin for five years or more, this figure rose to 37pc.