Professor John Burns of Newcastle University, who led the study, said he believes his team may have uncovered a simple way of controlling cancer stem cells.
The researchers gave a placebo, indigestible starch or 600mg aspirin to 1,071 patients with Lynch syndrome, a condition accounting for 5% of colon cancer cases. After five years, there have been under half as many colon cancers in the patients given placebo (six, compared with 16).
Professor Burns said: ‘Although there were many reports that aspirin might have a beneficial effect in a range of cancers, they were from case control and epidemiological studies. We decided that the only way to achieve conclusive proof was to undertake a randomised trial in a high-risk population.'
Professor Burns believes that aspirin may reduce the chances of cancer stem cells surviving in the colon. He presented the findings at the ECCO-ESMO European cancer conference this week.
Lynch syndrome, as known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, is an inherited cancer of the digestive tract, especially the colon and rectum.
Editor's blog: Sex worth dying for