We might reach for aspirin to dull the symptoms of sickness, but new US research suggests it could be taken to cut older people's risk of cancer.
Researchers from the American Cancer Society say people over the age of 60 who take a daily dose of aspirin reduce their cancer risk by up to 40 percent.
They studied 100,000 healthy people and found those who took aspirin daily were two fifths less likely to develop and die from stomach, oesophageal or colon cancer in the following 10 years.
They were also 12 percent less likely to die from other cancers, which made them 16 percent less likely to die from cancer of any type.
This is not the first time researchers have found links between aspirin and cancer prevention, but this new paper adds to evidence that taking the drug can work as a protective measure.
"Even a relatively modest benefit with respect to overall cancer mortality could still meaningfully influence the balances of risks and benefits of prophylactic [protective] aspirin use," the authors wrote in the study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The researchers found people who took aspirin every day were less likely to die from cancer in the following 11 years and that taking aspirin appeared to have the biggest influence over preventing cancer in the gastrointestinal tract.
While previous studies have suggested patients need to take aspirin for a long time to gain the beneficial protective effect, this study found no difference between patients who took aspirin daily for less than five years and those who had taken it for longer.
Professor Ian Olver, the CEO of Cancer Council Australia, told ninemsn that scientists are still determining how aspirin works to reduce people's cancer risk.
"One of the theories is that cancer is known to be associated with inflammation and aspirin is an anti-inflamatory," Professor Olver said.
"Another theory is that … it could be blocking some of the signals that are responsible for triggering off and making cancer grow. But that's speculation based on a plausible mechanism rather than knowing that that's how it works."
Professor Olver said more research needs to be done before doctors will start prescribing aspirin as a preventative measure.
"We don't have enough evidence about what the dose should be and what the balance between the beneficial effects on cancer and side effects such as gastrointestinal bleeding will be," he pointed out.
"Every study like this is getting us closer to when we will be able to make a recommendation."