An international study has been launched by Cancer Research UK to answer the final questions before aspirin could be recommended to reduce cancer risk.
Studies have estimated that using a low-dose aspirin could lead to a 10% drop in the number of people dying from some cancers.
But for every 17 lives saved by preventing cancer or heart attacks, there would be two deaths caused by bleeding, ulcers or strokes.
Who will benefit from the new drug?
Research has shown that taking aspirin for ten years would be beneficial for people aged between 50 and 75 years; however, there still needs to be a way to identify those who are at a high risk of bleeding to enable it to be used more widely.
To address this, epidemiology expert at Cancer Research UK Professor Jack Cuzick is leading an international collaboration of experts – including lab researchers, epidemiologists, and clinical trial experts from institutes such as Harvard, US, and Newcastle University and University College London, UK – to find out who is likely to benefit most from the drug and who is at greater risk of bleeding side-effects.
The researchers will also be investigating the best dose, how long it should be taken for, and how the aspirin works to reduce cancer risk.
Finding out how aspirin will work
Little is known regarding how the drug can reduce cancer risk, but researchers are hoping to unravel this.
Doing so could lead to a new drug being developed that has the same benefits of aspirin without the side-effects.
Strong evidence already exists that shows how aspirin can reduce the risk of bowel cancer, as well as cutting the risk of oesophageal and stomach cancers and potentially other cancer types.
The research team will explore why aspirin has this strong effect on some cancer types.
Answering the questions
Cuzick said: “This is a wonderful opportunity to finally answer the questions that stand in the way of aspirin being more widely used to cut cancer risk.
“By bringing together researchers from the lab right through to epidemiology – who’ve not had the opportunity to work together before – it will help us to understand how aspirin prevents cancer and who will benefit most.”
What is the Catalyst Award?
This work is being supported by the Cancer Research UK Catalyst Award, which supports population health researchers to come together and tackle substantial research problems, with funding of nearly £5m (~€5.6m) over five years.
“Population research has a fundamental role to play in understanding cancer in diverse human populations and in enabling new strategies for prevention, detection and intervention,” explained Dr Robert Strausberg, chair of the Cancer Research UK Catalyst Award Panel and deputy scientific director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.
He added: “That is why I am particularly excited about this Cancer Research UK Catalyst Award funding to investigate aspirin’s role in reducing cancer risk.
“It is a great example of international scientists from diverse disciplines such as surveillance, early detection, prevention, and clinical research coming together to facilitate big impact research.”