The Principal Investigator for the Australian arm of the ASPREE study, Professor John McNeil (pictured left), urges that reports on the benefits or the risks of daily aspirin in healthy people should be taken in context.
“Most major health organisations will not ‘jump the gun’ and recommend aspirin to healthy people without evidence. They are not making this recommendation because they think that the risk of side-effects is particularly serious. It is just that they do not have enough information to make a positive recommendation,” said Professor McNeil, Head of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University.
Every drug has the potential for side-effects and aspirin is no exception. Aspirin is often prescribed to people who have had a heart attack or stroke because research shows in this instance, the benefits outweigh the risks. The effect of aspirin on preventing cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia and macular degeneration in older people is possible, but unproven.
Professor McNeil said government health authorities required a higher level of evidence about the balance of benefits and risks of aspirin in healthy people before they could recommend people take the drug.
“We do not know whether aspirin has, on balance, a favourable or unfavourable effect on health. Previous research suggests that aspirin may prevent the onset of disease, however when we prescribe a drug to healthy people for prevention, doctors are acutely aware that benefits must outweigh the risks. We therefore require a higher level of evidence about the balance of benefits and risks. ASPREE will provide this,” said Professor McNeil.
“The reason ASPREE has been supported so strongly by government health authorities, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the US National Institutes of Health is because the question is so important for doctors and their patients.”
Melbourne Cardiologist and Head of Cardiovascular Research Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Professor Andrew Tonkin agrees.
“Media reports underscore how important the ASPREE study is. Older people are at higher risk for the conditions that aspirin may prevent, but also complications from its use,” said Professor Tonkin, who oversees the cardiovascular aspects of the ASPREE study.
“To be able to advise people appropriately we must get the answer to the fundamental question addressed by ASPREE – what is the net effect of aspirin on healthy life years which are lived, taking into account all its possible effects, both good and bad?”
The results of the ASPREE study should be known by 2018.
It is recommended that anyone thinking of changing their aspirin regime as a result of reports on the drug should speak to their GP first.
For more information, please contact ASPREE on 1800 728 745.