Aspirin: What are the risks and benefits?

  • 7 December 2010
  • From the section Health
Image caption Aspirin: A wonder drug?

Taking a small dose of aspirin every day has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer. So what is aspirin and what are the risks and benefits?

What is aspirin?

Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is a drug that has been used for many years as a painkiller. It has an anti-inflammatory action, and is used to relieve headache, menstrual pain and muscle aches. It costs 1p a tablet.

How does it work?

It works by helping to prevent blood clots forming in the blood vessels, by stopping cells in the blood known as platelets from sticking together and clogging an artery.

How can it prevent disease?

Aspirin lowers the risk of a blood clot forming in the arteries of the heart or brain, thereby reducing the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

What is the evidence that it can prevent cancer?

There is considerable evidence suggesting aspirin can reduce the risk of getting or dying from many different types of cancer. Early studies suggested the benefits come from taking high doses of aspirin.

The latest work suggests even small doses - 75mg - can reduce the risk of cancer when taken for at least five years.

Who should take aspirin?

Anyone considering taking aspirin is advised to talk to their doctor first as aspirin can affect health in other ways, such as increasing the chances of bleeding from the gut.

Source: Patient UK/Cancer Research UK

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