Aspirin's use in fighting cancer has the potential to increase pension liabilities by as much as $100 billion by extending lifespans, a risk modeller's report said. The pension costs for men in the UK could rise by 0.7% within 20 years if more people begin taking aspirin daily, according to a statement by Risk Management Solutions.
An increase of that magnitude across more than $13 trillion in pension liabilities in North America and Europe would be about the same as everyone giving up smoking within a generation, the firm said. Employers and governments are grappling with obligations to retirees as low bond yields make it harder to generate returns on funds set aside for the benefits. Actuaries' assumptions about costs have been challenged as medical advances and changes in behaviour help people live longer. "Aspirin was not known to be a protection against cancer," said Andrew Coburn, a senior vice president of RMS's LifeRisks platform and one of the report's authors.
"It's another one that people just didn't expect" when they forecast liabilities. Daily doses of aspirin reduce the chances of developing or dying from cancer earlier than previously thought and also prevent tumours from spreading, studies published in the Lancet medical journal last year showed. The findings could increase the use of a drug that's cheaper and more readily available than other cancer-fighting treatments, RMS said in its report. The modelling firm ran different scenarios about how widely aspirin would be used to predict additional pension costs.
A Pill a Day
Some studies show up to 25% of people aged 50 and older in the US are already taking aspirin each day, mainly to prevent heart disease, said Dr Charlie Fuchs of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. "Whatever is driving people to do it, it potentially has an impact on mortality through cancer risk reduction," he said in a telephone interview. Potential side effects, including dangerous bleeding, may discourage doctors from advising patients to take aspirin daily, he said.
"There aren't recommendations for an average-risk person to take aspirin to prevent cancer," he said. "In terms of the state of the science, there is even yet more literature to support the benefits of aspirin, but the risks, albeit small, haven't gone away."
Bayer AG, based in Leverkusen, Germany, invented aspirin and has sold it since 1899. A bottle of 500 generic 325-milligram aspirin tablets marketed by Walgreen costs $8 on drugstore.com, or 1.6 cents a pill. The drug is based on salicin, a chemical found in the bark of the willow tree that was first mentioned about 2,400 years ago by Hippocrates, the ancient Greek considered to be the father of Western medicine.
General Motors and Verizon Communications struck deals last year with Prudential Financial, the second largest US life insurer, to hand over pension obligations after bond yields fell. Prudential Chief Executive Officer John Strangfeld said in a letter last month that the transfers are the "beginning of a trend." Prudential has said longevity risks on pensions can be balanced by the life-insurance policies the New Jersey-based company also sells. The longer that life insurance clients survive, the more time the company has to invest premiums.