Aspirin May Protect Against Skin Cancer
An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but an aspirin a day may keep skin cancer away. People who took aspirin or similar painkillers daily had a much lower risk of skin cancer than people who did not take the drugs regularly, according to a new study, published in the journal Cancer on Tuesday.
"Given the high skin cancer incidence and the widespread and frequent use of NSAIDs, a preventive effect of these agents may have important public health implications," the authors wrote in the study. "The risk reduction was greatest among long-term and high-intensity users, suggesting a cumulative and dose-dependent, protective effect."
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Researchers followed over 200,000 people in Denmark for longer than eight years, and found that people who regularly took aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen had a 15 percent lower risk of three types of skin cancer -- basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and the deadly malignant melanoma.
While the researchers are not sure why the drugs may protect against skin cancer, previous studies have shown the drug to block tumor formation in animals, they wrote.
"The mechanism of action is not totally clear, but it's thought to be due to their anti-inflammatory effects," Dr. Josh Zeichner, and assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, who was not involved in the study, told ABC News.
While the findings are encouraging, the researchers noted several shortcomings in the study. They were not able to track how much of the drug the study participants took, nor did they measure the amount of sun exposure -- the root cause of skin cancer.
Hazel Nunn, a researcher with Cancer Research UK, who was not involved in the study, said that even if painkillers protect against skin cancer, the best way to prevent the disease is to avoid sun exposure.
"By far and away the best way to reduce the risk of skin cancer is to enjoy the sun safely, and take care to avoid sunburn," she told BBC News. "Sunburn's a clear sign that your skin's been damaged, and this damage can build up over time and lead to skin cancer in the future. When the sun's strong, use a combination of shade, clothes and at least SPF 15 sunscreen to protect your skin."
She also said prolonged aspirin use can cause health problems, such as ulcers.
"There is mounting evidence that aspirin does reduce the risk of some cancers, but it's too soon to say if this includes skin cancer," she said. "Aspirin can have serious side effects - so it's important to talk to a doctor about the risks and benefits if you're thinking of taking it regularly."
Zeichner echoed the statement, saying people should not run out and buy aspirin to protect themselves.
"This study is exciting, but we need more studies to continue to evaluate this as a possible treatment, "he told ABC News. "Right now the best way to prevent skin cancer is to use sunscreen, wear protective clothing and avoid of the sun between peak hours."
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