New research has shown that taking a low dose of aspirin on a daily basis can help lower the risk of bowel cancer.
According to scientists who carried out the research, taking a painkiller over several years could reduce the chances of developing the cancer by as much as a quarter.
And having looked at data on 14,000 patients, the researchers also concluded that taking aspirin could cut the number of deaths from the disease, Britain’s third most common cancer, by more than a third.
Previous research had suggested that high doses of aspirin, 500 milligrams, on a regular basis, could reduce bowel cancer.
But the new research showed that relatively low doses, between 75 and 300 milligrams, can be effective.
But over-exposure to aspirin can lead to potentially dangerous side effects, such as internal bleeding and stomach ulcers.
The new study was the first to assess whether taking aspirin in lower doses had an impact on bowel cancer.
Researchers gathered data from four randomised aspirin trials conducted to investigate the prevention of artery disease. On average, patients were men and women in their sixties who took the pill for six years.
Over a period of around 20 years, 391 of the trial participants, or 2.8%, developed bowel cancer. Aspirin was shown to reduce the risk of the disease by 24% and cut death rates by 35%.
The results were published in The Lancet medical journal.
Lead researcher Professor Peter Rothwell, from Oxford University and the John Radcliffe Hospital, said: “Our findings suggest that long-term low-dose aspirin treatment and sigmoidoscopy screening would combine to substantially reduce cancer incidence in all parts of the colon and rectum.”