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Does aspirin prevent cancer and vascular disease? 40 years of data and controversy

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Antonio M. M. Rodrigues.

‘To treat a disease is an admission of failure, Prevention is the ultimate aim of medicine.’ Archie Cochrane

Forty years ago a randomised controlled trial of aspirin in the prevention of heart attacks showed a 25% reduction in deaths and brought aspirin to the notice of cardiologists. Ten years later benefit was confirmed in one of the first ‘overviews’ conducted in medicine. In 2011 a series of follow-up studies of randomised trials showed a 40% reduction in cancer deaths and brought aspirin to the notice of oncologists. A reduction by aspirin in deaths and in the spread of cancer has been confirmed in numerous overviews.

But, aspirin is highly controversial. Its benefits in both vascular disease and cancer are widely acknowledged, but its dangers in increasing stomach bleeds are held by many to outweigh the benefits.

The present risk-benefit balance of aspirin prophylaxis will be presented and the talk will then focus on emerging evidence consistent with benefit in the treatment of cancer by aspirin.

Professor Peter Elwood, OBE , DSc, MD, FRCP , followed Archie Cochrane as Director of the MRC Epidemiology Unit, and on retirement in 1995 he was granted an honorary chair in Cardiff University. For over 50 years Elwood’s research has been on the prevention of disease. In addition to work on aspirin, in 1979 Elwood set up the Caerphilly Cohort Study, and has followed 2,500 subjects for almost 40 years. Results from Caerphilly leads Elwood to urge a healthy lifestyle – ‘better than any pill, no cost and no side effects’!

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Science Society series.

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