Taking a regular low dose of aspirin could prevent head and neck cancers by almost a quarter, according to new research.
The results of the study concluded that people were almost a quarter (22%) more likely to avoid developing head and neck cancers if they took aspirin on a weekly and monthly basis. Throat cancers had the most benefit from regular aspirin use.
More than 16,000 people in the UK are affected by head and neck cancers every year. One of those is mouth cancer, a disease on the rise that affects more than 6,000 people and claims more lives than testicular and cervical cancer combined.
Chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, stressed the importance of the findings but urged a word of caution.
Dr Carter said: ‘Mouth cancer cases are increasing, so this piece of research is encouraging. Regular aspirin use has been linked to preventing a number of cancers, and if it is a particularly successful practice for warding off mouth cancer, it should act as a springboard for more research.
‘But as much as these results are encouraging, people should not be fooled into thinking that taking aspirin counteracts the dangers of mouth cancer. If you smoke, drink alcohol to excess, have a poor diet and are at risk from picking up the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), often transmitted via oral sex, aspirin use will be irrelevant.
‘Mouth cancer can affect all parts of the mouth, tongue and lips. It could be a painless mouth ulcer that does not heal normally. It is important to visit your dentist if these ulcers do not heal within three weeks.
‘Other signs and symptoms to look out for include red and white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps and swellings.
‘The good news is if spotted early, survival rates are almost 90%. However, too many people come forward too late, because they do not visit their dentist for regular examinations, and this means survival rates tumble to as low as 50%. Our advice is simple – if in doubt, get checked out.’
Using data from the National Cancer Institute Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer (PLCO), a large-scale investigation of the effect of aspirin and ibuprofen on head and neck cancer risk was undertaken. For those aged 55-74, a ‘significant’ reduction of head and neck cancer risk was observed between weekly and monthly aspirin use; daily aspirin use and ibuprofen were not significantly associated with a reduced risk.