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Prescribing aspirin to over-50s ‘would prevent thousands of cancers per year’

A public health programme to encourage the routine use of low-dose aspirin in patients aged over 50 years could prevent more than 2,000 cancers a year in Wales, but only after a decade, a new analysis has found.

The researchers estimated the impact of a widespread primary prevention programme for cancer with aspirin, and found a substantial reduction in the risk of cancer after ten to twenty years.

Pulse revealed last month that the Department of Health was looking at ‘next steps' for aspirin in the light of a run of positive data for the drug in preventing malignancy.

This latest analysis from the Cochrane Institute of Primary Care and Public Health in Cardiff estimates the number needed to treat to avoid one extra vascular event with aspirin is approximately one in 2,000 annually, and one in 30 to prevent one case of cancer after 20 years.

They calculated that around 500 cases of cancer in Wales were currently being prevented in those taking aspirin to prevent cardiovascular events, but this could be quadrupled if all patients aged over 50 took the drug over a decade.

The research – published in the journal Public Health this month - called for a revisit of a health impact assessment into increased use of aspirin in Wales published in 2005.

Study leader Dr Gareth Morgan, secretary of the Welsh Aspirin Group, Department of Primary Care and Public Health School of Medicine, at Cardiff University said the study showed a rationale for using aspirin to prevent cancer, but would be difficult to implement in practice.

Dr Morgan said: 'The role of GPs is to advocate self-medication deserves further consideration since aspirin could contribute to healthy ageing.

'There is good evidence that aspirin affects carcinogenic processes in the bowel and urgent consideration is needed on how best to implement this benefit.'

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