New research suggests that taking a low dose aspirin tablet with a glass of milk may be a simple way to avoid dying from cancer.
The landmark study says the risk of death from a wide variety of cancers could be cut by between a third and half by taking aspirin for several years.
Scientists also found that calcium in milk could improve the drug’s beneficial effects.
But the group of researchers stopped short of urging people to take aspirin - which is known to increase the chances of internal bleeding.
According to the scientists, the findings of the study should tip the balance in favour of aspirin. And they claimed it could lead to a revision of medical guidelines.
Aspirin treatment to ward off cancer would probably be most effective between the ages of about 45 to 50, which is when when most cancers start to develop, say the researchers.
The drug is already taken by millions of Britons at risk of heart attacks or strokes.
The new research, the most wide-ranging to date, involved picking out cancer trends from eight studies of aspirin’s effects on arteries involving more than 25,000 patients.
Much of the cancer data had been “lost” in forgotten archives because it was not strictly relevant to the original focus of the trials.
But the findings are dramatic, showing a strong association between taking aspirin and a reduced risk of dying from a host of cancers.
They include diseases affecting the stomach and bowel, the oesophagus (gullet), the pancreas, the lungs, the prostate, the bladder and the kidneys.
During the trials, patients were taking at least 75 mg of aspirin every day for between four and eight years.
Significant benefits began to appear after five years of follow-up, with death rates for all cancers falling by 34% and for stomach and bowel cancers by 54%.
The benefit did not appear to increase with higher doses than 75 mg.
There was also evidence of a long-term effect spanning decades. After 20 years, the risk of death from all solid cancers remained 20% lower among patients who had previously taken aspirin. For stomach and bowel cancers, long-term death rates were 35% lower than they were for patients not given the drug.
The research is published in an early online edition of The Lancet medical journal.