Aspirin's use fighting cancer has the potential to increase pension liabilities by as much as $100 billion by extending lifespans, a risk modeler said in a report.
Pension costs for men in the United Kingdom could rise by 0.7% within 20 years if more people begin taking aspirin daily, according to a statement April 2 from Risk Management Solutions Inc. An increase of that magnitude across the 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 modeling 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 behavior help people live longer.
“Aspirin was not known to be a protection against cancer,” said Andrew Coburn, a senior vice president of RMS' 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 tumors 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 modeling firm ran different scenarios about how widely aspirin would be used to predict additional pension costs.
Some studies show up to 25% of people aged 50 and older in the United States are already taking aspirin each day, mainly to prevent heart disease, said Dr. Charlie Fuchs, director of the gastrointestinal cancer program at 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, might 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.”
General Motors Co. and Verizon Communications Inc. struck deals last year with Prudential Financial Inc., the second-largest U.S. life insurer, to hand over pension obligations after bond yields fell. Prudential CEO 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 Newark, N.J.-based company also sells. The longer that life insurance clients survive, the more time the company has to invest premiums. n