Do we have a cancer preventative right in our medicine cabinet?

Scientists from Queens University in Ireland discovered that taking aspirin regularly reduces the risk of developing hereditary cancers.

"This is a huge breakthrough in terms of cancer prevention,” said Professor Patrick Morrison from Queens University in Belfast, who led the Northern Ireland part of the study.

The decade long study involved scientists and clinicians from 43 centers in 16 countries and was funded by Cancer Research UK.

Researchers followed nearly 1,000 patients, in some cases for over 10 years.

They found that those who had been taking a regular dose of aspirin had 50 percent fewer incidences of hereditary cancer compared to those who were not taking aspirin.

The study focused on people with Lynch syndrome, an inherited genetic disorder that has high risks of cancers by affecting genes responsible for detecting and repairing damage in DNA.

About 50 percent of people with Lynch syndrome develop cancer, mainly in the bowel and womb. Researchers looked at all cancers related to the syndrome and found that almost 30 percent of the patients not taking aspirin had developed cancer compared to only around 15 percent of those taking aspirin.

The patients taking the aspirin still developed the same number of polyps, which are thought to be precursors of cancer, as those who did not take aspirin, the authors wrote. However, the polyps that developed in those taking aspirin did not develop into cancer, which suggests that aspirin could possibly destroy these cells before they turn cancerous.

"The results of this study, which has been ongoing for over a decade, proves that the regular intake of aspirin over a prolonged period halves the risk of developing hereditary cancers,” said Morrison.

“The effects of aspirin in the first five years of the study were not clear but in those who took aspirin for between five and ten years the results were very clear."

The authors wrote that over ten percent of bowel cancer cases are hereditary and by taking aspirin regularly the number of those dying from the hereditary form of the disease could be halved.

Over 1,000 people were diagnosed with bowel cancer in Northern Ireland last year and 400 of them died from the disease.

“For those who have a history of hereditary cancers in their family, like bowel and womb cancers, this will be welcome news,” said Morrison.

“Not only does it 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.”

But Morrison advised that anyone who is considering taking aspirin to discuss it with their doctors, as aspirin is known to bring the risk of stomach trouble such as ulcers.

"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."