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Friday, 10 September, 1999, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Regular painkiller use linked to cancer
Regular painkiller users are at higher risk of cancer
People who regularly take higher doses of painkillers like aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen are raising their risk of kidney cancer, according to research.

But scientists say that no-risk low doses of aspirin and other drugs are enough to protect against heart attacks, colorectal cancer, and Alzheimer's disease.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, found that regular use of all the major types of over-the-counter painkillers could raise the chance of developing renal cell carcinoma, which accounts for the vast majority of kidney cancer cases.

Researchers quizzed more than 1,000 renal cell carcinoma sufferers on their painkiller usage before they were diagnosed.

On average, those taking more than 20g of painkillers a week were found to more than double the risk. Even those taking only two pills a day showed a marked increase.

Kidney cancer is far less common than heart disease or Alzheimer's
When broken down into drug types, phenacetin and acetaminophen (Paracetamol) provided the highest risks, followed by aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as ibrubrofen.

NSAIDs are also taken by sufferers of bowel conditions such as Crohn's Disease, and as a preventive measure against Alzheimer's Disease.

Low doses did not raise risk

However, those who were taking 325mg - one regular strength pill - of aspirin a day exclusively to protect their hearts showed no signs of increased risk regardless of how long they had been taking the drug.

The report said: "Given that there is no evidence that ingestion of a regular strength aspirin a day even for as long as 10 years leads to any increased risk of renal cell carcinoma, we would recommend that dosage or less for preventive health purposes."

The overall risk of renal cell cancer remains small in comparison to that of other major diseases.

Professor Peter Selby, director of clinical studies at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said that the research added to the debate on cancer and analgesics - but did not represent the last word.

He said: "The messages overall are still mixed, although this does add weight to the theory that there is a small risk connected with taking a lot of analgesics over a long period."

He reassured those taking lower doses of aspirin and NSAIDs to prevent heart disease and colorectal cancer that there was no evidence of potential harm, and urged them to continue.

Only six per 100,000 people are expected to develop the condition compared to 204, 44, and 95 per 100,000 for fatal heart disease, colorectal cancer and Alzheimer's respectively.

Renal cell carcinoma accounts for approximately 2% of all cancers diagnosed in the UK, although it is difficult to treat, with a cure rate of about a third.

New evidence released this week showed that daily aspirin can reduce the risk of stroke in women - although high doses were found to actually increase the risk.

Taking more than 15 aspirins a week raised the chance of haemmorhagic stroke, caused by a burst blood vessel in the brain, although lower doses reduced the risk of ischaemic stroke, caused when a blood clot blocks a major vessel.

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