A daily low dose of aspirin significantly reduces the number of deaths from a whole range of common cancers, according to a recent study.
The 20% drop in all cancer deaths seen in the study adds new evidence to the debate about whether otherwise healthy people in their 40s and 50s should consider taking a low dose of aspirin each day, an Oxford University release said.
Aspirin is already known to be beneficial for those at high risk of heart disease.
But among healthy people, the benefit in lower chances of heart problems only marginally outweighs the small risk of stomach bleeds.
The large size of the effect now seen in preventing cancer deaths may begin to tip the balance in favour of taking aspirin, the scientists suggest.
"These results do not mean that all adults should immediately start taking aspirin," cautions Professor Peter Rothwell of the Department of Clinical Neurology at Oxford University, who led the work.
"But they do demonstrate major new benefits that have not previously been factored into guideline recommendations."
He said, "Previous guidelines have rightly cautioned that in healthy middle aged people the small risk of bleeding on aspirin partly offsets the benefit from prevention of strokes and heart attacks, but the reductions in deaths due to several common cancers will now alter this balance for many people."
However, Rothwell said, "I don't think it's necessarily right for the person who did the research to say what guidelines should be.
"We can't say with absolute certainty that there won't be some unknown harm in taking aspirin for 30 years, but it looks as if there would be pretty large benefits in reducing cancer deaths. People have to accept there's some uncertainty here."
Professor Rothwell and colleagues recently established that a low dose of aspirin (75 mg per day, or a quarter of the normal dose taken for pain relief) taken for longer than five years reduces death rates from bowel cancer by more than a third.
In this new work, scientists from Oxford, Edinburgh, London and Japan used data on over 670 deaths from cancer in a range of randomised trials involving over 25,000 people.