Daily aspirin unlikely to help healthy older people live longer, study finds

'Aspirin-a-day risky in old age' - major study

The findings apply only to older adults who haven't developed a blood-vessel-related problem, however.

In line with known side-effects of the drug, those in the aspirin group experienced more internal bleeding, with 3.8% of those on the drug having serious medical conditions ranging from stroke to gastrointestinal bleeds, compared with 2.7% in the placebo group.

McNeil and colleagues noted that adherence to the assigned treatment was 62.1% and 64.1% among aspirin and placebo recipients, respectively, during the final year of trial participation.

Instead, it focused on answering the question of whether the drug reduced the risk of healthy seniors suffering their first heart attack or stroke, or losing their good health.

Dr Gabriel Choi Kin, former president of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said the use of low-dose aspirin for healthy elderly people was controversial. The minimum age for Caucasian participants was 70 and 65 for African-American and Hispanic volunteers, due to their higher risk of dementia and cardiovascular disease. The age limit was lowered for those groups because blacks and Hispanics tend to be younger than whites when they have their first heart attack or stroke. The researchers then followed the study's participants for a median of 4.7 years.

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Half of the study participants received 100 milligrams of aspirin a day; the other half received a placebo. Also, the rates of physical disability dementia were similar in both groups.

"The use of low-dose aspirin resulted in a significantly higher risk of major hemorrhage and did not result in a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease than placebo", the researchers conclude in one of the papers.

"But in Hong Kong, the traditional teaching is to recommend aspirin to prevent recurrence of heart attack or stroke", Choi said, adding he believed aspirin did not have to be given to healthy people.

"The increase in cancer deaths in study participants in the aspirin group was surprising, given prior studies suggesting aspirin use improved cancer outcomes", Dr. Leslie Ford, associate director for clinical research in the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Prevention, said. This finding was surprising because nearly half of those extra deaths were due to cancer, including colorectal and other gastrointestinal cancers.

The cancer finding surprised researchers because in other studies, aspirin protected against death from cancer.

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The study's authors say, however, that the new study's cancer findings may represent a statistical fluke and should be "interpreted with caution" until the data is analyzed more closely.

Big changes have occurred in preventive medicine since the original aspirin research was done, Michos told NBC News in an email.

"Cancer was the major contributor to the higher mortality in the aspirin group, accounting for 1.6 excess deaths per 1000 person-years".

"So, this is a welcomed study, but everybody who is now taking aspirin should obviously see their GP before making changes to their regime".

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