Thousands of people with a genetic condition should be given aspirin every day to slash their risk of colorectal cancer, health officials have ruled.
People with Lynch syndrome (LS) are born at an increased risk of the killer disease, with four out of five people eventually being diagnosed.
But a major study showed people could slash their odds of developing it by taking aspirin every day for two years, prompting the change in guidelines.
This is despite the NHS banning prescriptions for ‘over-the-counter’ remedies in a desperate attempt to save money last year.
Although branded a step in the right direction, charities have argued most people with LS are unaware they even have it.
Thousands of people with a common genetic condition should be given aspirin every day to slash their risk of colorectal cancer, NICE has ruled
Figures estimate around 200,000 people in the UK have LS – but better screening would ‘save lives’, experts say.
The condition, of which there are no other symptoms, can lead to cancer at a young age.
It is especially linked to the colorectal form – cancer of the colon, rectum or bowel, as well as endometrial, skin and brain.
LS accounts for approximately one in 30 of colorectal tumours in the UK, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
In its draft guidance on dishing out aspirin, the watchdog said the condition leads to more than 1,100 colorectal cancers every year.
Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, admitted that there are risks associated with long-term aspirin use.
However, he said: ‘The committee agreed that the benefits are likely to outweigh any potential harms.’
Up to ten per cent of people who take aspirin have have nose bleeds, bruise easier and bleed for longer. This can be dangerous if the bleeding occurs internally.
Bowel Cancer UK welcomed the guidance, saying it was ‘extremely pleased’ about the recommendation of aspirin for patients with LS.
However, the charity said ‘it is crucial identification is addressed by putting guidance on Lynch syndrome testing into practice’.
Deborah Alsina MBE, its chief executive, said: ‘Currently 95 per cent of people do not know that they have Lynch syndrome. This is unacceptable.’
NICE published guidance in 2017 recommending that everyone who is diagnosed with colorectal cancer should be tested for LS.
If tests shows a patient has LS, they can be monitored for other cancers and their close relatives can also be offered testing for LS.
LS runs in families – if one parent carries a gene mutation for Lynch syndrome, there is a 50 per cent chance that mutation will be passed on.
But Wales is the only nation to introduce universal testing of LS in the UK for all those diagnosed with bowel cancer.
Currently, people known to have LS have regular screening with colonoscopy and polypectomy to identify pre-cancerous cells.
Ms Alsina said: ‘It is vital that the governments of Scotland, England and Northern Ireland follow Wales’ example.
‘Until this happens, generations of families will be devastated by bowel cancer and lives will be needlessly lost to a disease that is treatable and curable.’
Mutations in the genes prevent proper repairing of DNA errors in LS patients. When abnormal cells continue to divide, they can become cancerous.
Lynch syndrome affects about 1.17million Americans, causing around four per cent of 140,000 new cases of colorectal cancer in the US each year.
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common form of the disease in the UK, with more than 42,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
The NHS last year banned prescriptions for over-the-counter remedies in a desperate attempt to save money and pump it into frontline services.
Cough mixture, eye drops, laxatives, sun creams, paracetamol and anti-dandruff shampoo were among the products that will be curbed.
What is bowel cancer and what are the symptoms?
Bowel, or colorectal, cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.
Such tumours usually develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.
- Bleeding from the bottom
- Blood in stools
- A change in bowel habits lasting at least three weeks
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme, unexplained tiredness
- Abdominal pain
Most cases have no clear cause, however, people are more at risk if they:
- Are over 50
- Have a family history of the condition
- Have a personal history of polyps in their bowel
- Suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
- Lead an unhealthy lifestyle
Treatment usually involves surgery, and chemo- and radiotherapy.
More than nine out of 10 people with stage one bowel cancer survive five years or more after their diagnosis.
This drops significantly if it is diagnosed in later stages.
According to Bowel Cancer UK figures, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK.
It affects around 40 per 100,000 adults per year in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute.