Hong Kong experts cautious about British aspirin cancer claims

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 August, 2014, 4:25am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 August, 2014, 5:12am

A British study that recommends people aged 50 to 65 take an aspirin a day to protect themselves from cancer has been greeted cautiously in Hong Kong.

The Department of Health said it was aware of the findings and that aspirin would be taken into consideration for cancer prevention. But a spokesman warned that every medicine had potential side effects.

"Before taking any medicine, including aspirin, the public is advised to consult primary care doctors about the proper usage, and pros and cons of the medication," he said.

Aspirin is traditionally used as a pain killer but can cause gastrointestinal ulcers and stomach bleeding if taken regularly.

The study suggested that more than 130,000 deaths would be avoided over a 20-year period if Britain's 50- to 64-year-olds took a low-dosage daily aspirin for 10 years, because the beneficial effects continue even when the aspirin is stopped, the authors say.

However, people would need to take aspirin for at least five years, and probably 10, to obtain the benefits, the study said.

The president of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists, William Chui Chun-ming, described the study as "good news" if cheap and readily available aspirins could also be used to prevent disease.

But he, too, warned the public to be cautious before taking tablets on a daily basis.

"I think it is still too premature to use the drug to prevent cancer before more data and evidence can prove its benefits outweigh the risks," he said.

More than 26,900 Hongkongers are diagnosed with cancers every year and the disease kills over 13,000 annually.

The department's spokesman said about 30 per cent of cancer deaths were due to five factors: being overweight, low fruit and vegetable intake, a lack of physical activity, smoking and alcohol.

Concluding that the benefits outweighed the risks, the British team led by Professor Jack Cuzick, writing in the cancer journal Annals of Oncology, said that by taking low-dose aspirin every day for 10 years, bowel cancer cases could be cut by about 35 per cent and deaths by 40 per cent.

Aspirin could reduce rates of oesophageal and stomach cancers by 30 per cent and deaths from them by up to 50 per cent.

But taking aspirin for 10 years increased the risk of stomach bleeds among those aged 60 and over, the study said.