Aspirin is an inexpensive anti-inflammatory drug known for its pain-relieving and fever-reducing properties. Past studies proved its capabilities to prevent bowel cancer, the third leading cancer in the United Kingdom with over 41,000 new diagnoses annually.

A new study by Dutch researchers puts the pain reliever in the spotlight again. The researchers studied patients who took a low dose of aspirin daily after being diagnosed with cancer and found they had higher 5-year overall survival rates compared to patients who did not take the drug.

The study involved 13,715 gastrointestinal tract cancer patients in the Netherlands. Those who took a daily dose of aspirin had an overall survival rate of 75 percent five years after the cancer diagnosis in the bowel, pancreas, stomach or throat. The survival rate for non-aspirin users was 42 percent.  

The patients involved in the study took low doses - 80 to 100mg - of aspirin pills for heart attack prevention. Researchers suggest that the cheap painkillers should be prescribed by experts following a cancer diagnosis. The findings were presented by trial coordinator Dr. Martine Frouws at the 2015 European Cancer Congress in Vienna.

"Aspirin may serve as the magic bullet because it can target and prevent ischaemic heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's disease, the three major health catastrophes in the third millennium," said Professor Nadir Arber, the spokesperson for the European Cancer Congress.

Frouws' team is gearing up for the second phase of the study. By analyzing tumor tissue from patients, the team can see which would benefit from the drug. When identified, the researchers can then distinguish cancer patients who can take aspirin as treatment in the future. Frouws added that the study findings can benefit national healthcare systems as aspirin is an unbranded, relatively inexpensive drug.

Aspirin, while effective and inexpensive, can cause side effects like internal bleeding. Dr. Áine McCarthy from Cancer Research UK warned that patients shouldn't take it without consulting a doctor first.

Another controlled trial is looking into the effects of a daily 80mg dose of aspirin in older patients with bowel cancer. The same trial is undergoing in Netherlands. Down the road, another trial strudy will be made on patients with gastrointestinal cancers. The researchers will then test aspirin's effects compared to a placebo drug to gather more scientific data to back up aspirin's cancer benefit claims.

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