The Government gave its clearest signal yet that it is ready to use aspirin to tackle the disease in its latest annual review of cancer treatment.
It comes after several scientific studies appeared to show taking the painkiller could reduce the risk of developing cancer by up to 50 per cent.
A recent study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, showed people who had taken aspirin at least once a month in the past year were 49 per cent less likely to develop the most common form of liver cancer.
Scientists have been working on an international statement on using aspirin to prevent cancer, and the Department of Health signalled in the report it was ready to accept their recommendations.
The report, Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer, notes: “An international consensus statement on the prophylactic use of aspirin in the general population is due to be published shortly.
“The statement is likely to say that accumulating evidence supports an effect of aspirin in reducing overall cancer incidence and mortality in the general population, and these benefits are larger and most clearly established for some gastrointestinal cancers.”
But the report notes there are are arguments against the policy, adding: “In 2013 we will consider what the international consensus statement means for policy in England, such as when the benefits might be outweighed by the disadvantages – particularly, the increased risk of gastric bleeds – and how best to manage the use of aspirin in the general public for this purpose.”
Jessica Harris, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Research suggests that regularly taking low doses of aspirin can reduce the risk of developing and dying from cancer.
“But aspirin has a range of serious side-effects, including internal bleeding, and at the moment it’s not clear whether the benefits would outweigh the harms, what the right dose might be, or which group of people are most likely to benefit.
“An expert group is reviewing the evidence with the aim of providing greater clarity about whether there are groups of people who might benefit from taking aspirin. And Cancer Research UK is funding a number of clinical trials testing the benefits of using aspirin to both prevent and treat cancer.
“People should consult their doctors before deciding to take aspirin regularly, because there are common conditions and medications which can mean that it may not be suitable for everyone.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said a statement on aspirin and cancer would be published shortly.
“The Department is working with the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and other experts like Cancer Research UK to consider the next steps on the benefits of aspirin on preventing cancer,” she said.
“This will give us a better understanding of the benefits and potential harms/side effects from low-dose aspirin.
“The research is clear that aspirin is beneficial for people who have had a heart attack or stroke in preventing future events. There continues to be well established evidence to support this. But there are also risks for some people, so anyone considering taking aspirin regularly should talk to their GP first.”