Thursday 16 September 2010

Express is back on the aspirin

In April 2009, the Express reported this:

And today, it reports this:

It is the latest in a long line of at times contradictory stories from the Express and Mail which suggest aspirin will either cause or cure some terrible disease.

Like many of those earlier stories, the headline is misleading. Here's the start of Victoria Fletcher's article:

An aspirin a day can slash the risk of bowel cancer, it is revealed today.

'Can slash the risk' isn't the same as 'stops'.

It goes on:

The new research is further evidence of the health benefits of the wonder drug.

The same beneficial 'wonder drug' that the Express said causes brain bleeding?

The research found:

The results showed that taking 75mg of aspirin every day for between one and three years led to a 19 per cent reduction in risk.

For people taking the drug daily for three to five years, there was a 24 per cent reduced risk, rising to 31 per cent for those taking the drug for five to 10 years.

So taking a daily aspirin for up to ten years may cut the risk of getting bowel cancer by 31%. This is not quite 'a small dose stops bowel cancer' which the Express front page claims.

Fletcher admits that:

The risk of getting the disease increases for people who have a poor diet, drink too much alcohol, are obese and take no exercise.

Which sounds like better advice than rushing to take aspirin. Indeed, towards the end of the article:

Yinka Ebo, Cancer Research UK’s health information officer, said: "This doesn’t mean that we should all reach for the medicine cabinet just yet, because the risks may outweigh the benefits."


Mark Flannagan, chief executive of the charity Beating Bowel Cancer, said: “These findings are encouraging, particularly as, unlike previous studies, this shows that even the lowest daily dose can have an effect on risk-reduction after just one year.

“Anyone looking to lower their risk of developing bowel cancer should reduce their intake of red and processed meat, high-fat foods and alcohol, and increase their intake of fruit, vegetables and fibre, take regular moderate exercise and stop smoking.

“In the case of daily aspirin, we recommend that you consult your GP before undertaking any course of treatment.”

If there is a link between taking aspirin and reducing the risk of cancer that is worth reporting on in a measured, accurate manner. But headlines such as the one the Express serves up today are not helpful and risk giving people false hope.

Indeed, the research paper's abstract makes clear:

[Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs] use prior to [colorectal cancer] diagnosis does not influence survival from the disease.



  1. What experts were used to find that Aspirin can cause bleeding? Of course Aspirin can "cause bleeding", it has anti-clotting tendencies. Hence why people already on anti-coagulants, such as myself, cannot take it and why people are sometimes told to take it before a long flight as it will considerably reduce the risk of a clot forming, causing DVT.

    The usual Health scare, contradictory, EVERYTHING WILL KILL YOU, UNLESS IT DOESN'T nonsense from this useless rag.

  2. Auberon Waugh used to say that most ambulance journeys could be saved if people simply took an aspirin and asked someone to drive them to hospital.

    But at least he was consistent about it.

  3. By 'a small dose stops bowel cancer' it's probable that the paper is referring to the so-called low-dose aspirin used as a preventative measure against heart attacks etc rather than alluding to the regularity of the dose or the length of time over which it's taken.

    A normal aspirin tablet is 300 mg, whereas the low-dose version is 75 mg, so a person taking three standard asprins a day as a painkiller will be taking 12 times the low-dose volume.

    Indeed, I think the low-dose version was developed to cut the risk of bleeding from the normal dose variety, but clearly the risk is lessened rather than eliminated entirely.

    The Express's sub-heading refers to a 'small daily dose' which perhaps makes things slightly clearer.

    Good spot otherwise though.


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