Clinical trial shows aspirin could cut your risk of cancer by half
Lives could be saved after scientists and patients in Northern Ireland helped uncover the power of aspirin to fight cancer.
A team of researchers at Queen's University in Belfast has taken part in a global study which discovered that taking regular aspirin halves the risk of developing hereditary cancers - those which develop as a result of a gene fault inherited from a parent.
People who carry the gene are 90% more likely to develop bowel cancer during their lifetime, so researchers were keen to find a way to stop this from happening.
During the decade-long trial, funded by Cancer Research UK, relatives of people from Northern Ireland diagnosed with bowel or womb cancer were tested to see whether they had the faulty gene.
As a result, 30 people from Northern Ireland were recruited on to the trial. Some received regular aspirin, while others received a placebo. Everyone taking part in the trial underwent an internal camera test every three years to monitor any growths in their bowel or womb.
The research discovered a regular dose of aspirin does not stop people with the faulty gene from developing polyps in their bowel and womb - growths that can become cancerous over time.
However, the study found polyps that developed in people taking aspirin did not become cancerous.
Professor Patrick Morrison, who led the Northern Ireland team, said scientists have been delighted at the results.
He said: "This is a huge breakthrough in terms of cancer prevention.
"For those who have a history of hereditary cancers in their family, like bowel and womb cancers, this will be welcome news."
The trial started in Belfast in 1999 and none of the people recruited to the study have developed cancer, despite the strong possibility they would.
Prof Morrison explained: "The people recruited onto the trial had a colonoscopy every three years which allowed us to monitor them.
"We discovered the number of polyps people developed didn't actually change when they were taking the aspirin - but they didn't turn into cancer. We don't know exactly why this happens but we believe it could be because the aspirin could possibly be causing these cells to destruct before they turn cancerous."
Prof Morrison said anyone thinking about taking aspirin as a way of stopping cancer should speak to their GP.
He said: "For anyone considering taking aspirin I would recommend discussing this with your GP first as aspirin is known to bring with it a risk of stomach complaints, including ulcers."
However, he said many people can get the level of aspirin required by simply following a healthy diet. "There is actually natural aspirin in fruit and vegetables so people who get their five a day could actually be getting the levels they need," he said.
"Not only does the study show we can reduce cancer rates and ultimately deaths, it opens up other avenues for further cancer prevention research.
"We aim now to go forward with another trial to assess the most effective dosage of aspirin for hereditary cancer prevention and to look at the use of aspirin in the general population as a way of reducing the risk of bowel cancer."
The early symptoms for bowel cancer are similar to other less serious problems with the bowel. They include bleeding from the bottom, persistent change in bowel habit, abdominal pain, a lump in the tummy especially on the right hand side, unexplained tiredness, dizziness and breathlessness, signs of anaemia, unexpected and unexplained weight loss.