Aspirin may reduce cancer risk in people with Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colon Cancer (HNPCC)

In collaboration with the Press Association

UK scientists have discovered that a daily dose of aspirin may protect against cancer in people with Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colon Cancer (HNPCC - also called Lynch syndrome) - an inherited condition that raises the risk of some forms of cancer.

Research presented at the European cancer congress ECCO 15 - ESMO 34 in Berlin found that regular aspirin use halved the risk of both bowel and womb cancers in people with the condition.

HNPCC is caused by an inherited faulty gene that increases their risk of various cancers. It is thought to be associated with around five per cent of cases of bowel cancer.

The Newcastle-based researchers studied 1,071 people from 16 countries, all of whom carried the HNPCC gene fault.

Participants either took 600mg of aspirin per day or a placebo (dummy treatment).

After 29 months, the researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in December 2008 that neither treatment had had any effect on whether or not patients developed cancer.

However, they continued to follow the patients and have since started to notice a trend.

Of the 52 participants who have developed bowel cancer so far, just 17 were taking aspirin, compared with 35 who were not.

Womb cancer was also less common in people who were taking aspirin.

In addition, of the six participants who developed multiple cancers, five were in the placebo group.

Dr John Burn, medical director and head of the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University, who led the study, commented: "Bearing in mind these people almost certainly already had their cancer when they started the trial, there is a significant impact beyond two years."

The researchers concluded that people with HNPCC who take two aspirin per day for three years may benefit from a significantly reduced risk of cancer for the next five years.

They now plan to carry out a similar study using lower doses of aspirin to see whether patients could benefit from the drug's cancer-protective effects without suffering common side-effects associated with long-term aspirin use, which include gastrointestinal irritation and bleeding.

Henry Scowcroft, Cancer Research UK's science information manager, commented: "This is an exciting study providing strong evidence that taking aspirin reduces the risk of bowel cancer in people who are genetically predisposed to the disease.

"But this doesn't mean that everyone should start taking aspirin if they're worried about bowel cancer - aspirin can cause significant side-effects if not used as directed by a doctor.

"If you're concerned about bowel cancer you should make sure you take up opportunities for screening when invited, and your first port of call should always be your GP if you notice any persistent changes or symptoms that aren't normal for you."