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Aspirin in the prevention of cancer
That aspirin can help to prevent cancer1 has caught the public's attention. How does this benefit compare with the rather modest benefit in lessening cardiovascular events previously reported in those at low cardiovascular risk? In a previous study of such patients,2 the prevention was only three events in women and four in men among 1000 people studied over 6·4 years. The cost was 2·5 major bleeds per 1000 per 5 years in women and three in men, so the overall benefit was truly modest. By contrast, the cancer prevention rates in the study by Rothwell and colleagues1 included 15 gastrointestinal cancer deaths per 1000 people over 5 years. These benefits vastly outweighed the risk of major bleeds.
In view of these new facts, we should no longer be reserved about recommending aspirin even for those at low cardiovascular risk. However, we are still lacking firm data on when aspirin should be started in those at low risk, and at which dose. The doses of aspirin protecting from cancer in Peter Rothwell and colleagues' study1 were in the range of 75—300 mg daily. My guess is to start at a low dose—say 75 mg—in the early 50s.
I delare that I have no conflicts of interest.