For years, doctors have advised patients at risk of heart disease to take a daily low dose of aspirin. Now a new study has put a number on that benefit: patients taking aspirin therapy have a 38 percent lower risk. And, the researchers say, a regular aspirin a day is associated with a 25 percent lower risk of death from any cause.
Andrew Chan with Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School says the study -- which followed 80,000 women over 25 years -- had reliable, consistent data. "The mortality benefit appeared to occur somewhat earlier for cardiovascular disease, but appeared to take longer term use to show a benefit from cancer.
The researchers also found that women who were older and had a greater number of cardiovascular risk factors tended to benefit the most from aspirin, which is consistent from other studies.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent panel of health experts that evaluates clinical research. Earlier in March it released clinical guidelines that recommended against the routine use of aspirin to prevent colorectal cancer for people at average risk for the disease.
Chan says that while his study shows that aspirin can play a protective role in preventing cancer as well as heart disease, much more needs to be done to assess the appropriate treatment with the drug.
"We know that there are specific risks of taking aspirin over a long period of time, and so some of those risks may not warrant the potential benefit. So it needs to be individualized at this point."
Chan says it is premature to make any clinical recommendations for large groups of people.
Chan says research on how aspirin impacts heart disease or cancer could ultimately lead to better treatments without the side effects.
He advises those considering aspirin therapy as a preventive measure seek a doctor's advice.
The study is published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association.