Three new research studies published in the Lancet show that a daily, low dose of aspirin might be good for more than just your heart -- it might prevent cancer, too.
In 2010, Peter Rothwell, a professor of neurology at the University of Oxford, published a study demonstrating that a daily dose of aspirin could improve the odds of avoiding or surviving cancer up to 20 years later -- but only if aspirin was taken for 5 years or longer.
Now, Rothwell and his colleagues are back with three new studies showing even more health benefits to aspirin.
The first study looked at medical records of thousands of people enrolled in a study to test aspirin's effects on heart health. According to the Wall Street Journal, Rothwell and his team found that three years of a daily, low dose of aspirin reduced the risk of developing cancer by 25 percent. After five years of daily aspirin, participants saw a 37 percent reduction in developing cancer.
While the original study was specific to certain types of cancer, this new study shows aspirin's general anti-cancer benefit.
The second study looked at aspirin's effects on cancer metastasis. Researchers found that a daily dose of aspirin could limit the spread of adenocarcinomas, like lung and colon cancer, and thereby improve survival rates. Aspirin didn't have the same helpful effects on blood and other cancers.
The third study was observational, looking at other research that had been done on aspirin since 1950. The researchers found that the same benefits of aspirin were present in this huge pool of data as in their own smaller studies.
Rothwell and his team aren't entirely sure why aspirin has these anti-cancer properties, but other experts have suggested that it has something to do with aspirin's effect on platelets, cells that help form blood clots after a wound.
Medical experts are understandably excited by this news. It seems like aspirin has many different benefits and few side effects -- though the increased risk of internal bleeding is a serious one. As usual, don't rush out to buy a bottle of baby aspirin without checking with your doctor first.
"I’m not ready to say that everybody ought to take a baby aspirin a day to prevent cancer," Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer and executive vice president of the American Cancer Society, told the New York Times.
And, of course, popping a pill every day won't take the place of other healthy habits, like a balanced diet and regular exercise.
Still, Rothwell suggests that anyone in their mid-forties or older should talk to his or her doctor about the possible benefits of low-dose aspirin. According to the Guardian, Rothwell has been taking aspirin every day for the past few years.