Aspirin And Skin Cancer: Can The Painkiller Prevent Melanoma?

By Philip Ross on March 12, 2013 1:08 PM EDT

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While limiting sun exposure and wearing sunscreen are still the best guards against skin cancer, new research shows that the painkiller aspirin could be used to help reduce the risk of certain skin cancers, including melanoma. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Aspirin and skin cancer may be more closely linked than could have been imagined, new research shows. ABC News reports that a new study from Stanford University School of Medicine's Cancer Institute suggests that the popular painkiller aspirin can guard against melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. So does the painkiller actually prevent melanoma?

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While it's still too soon to tell just how strong the correlation between aspirin and skin cancer really is, the Stanford Cancer Institute did find that nearly 60,000 post-menopausal women who regularly took aspirin were 21 percent less likely to be diagnosed with melanoma. Also, women who took aspirin for five years or more had a 30 percent reduction in risk of skin cancer.

Melanoma is a disease in which cancerous cells develop in the skin cells. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that in 2009 (the most recent year numbers are available), 61,646 people in the US were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, 9,199 of whom died from it. Oregon, Washington, Utah and North Carolina are among the states with the highest rates of skin cancer incidence.

Aspirin has already been proven to help prevent some types of cancer like breast and colorectal. Study author Dr. Jean Tang of Stanford University wrote in the report, published yesterday in the journal Cancer, that aspirin may also have a "chemopreventive effect" against skin cancer.

"This is one of many studies looking at the relationship between aspirin use and melanoma," said ABC News' chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. "Some have found an association between taking aspirin and having a lower risk of melanoma and some have not."

Twice-weekly use of aspirin was associated with a decreased risk among Caucasian women in their 50s, 60s and 70s. The study, however, did not take into account family history of melanoma or hair color.

Aspirin is an over-the-counter drug that treats pain, fever, arthritis and inflammation. As ABC News notes, aspirin dates back to nearly 400 B.C., when people used salicin-containing willow tree bark as a remedy for inflammation and pain. More recently, aspirin has also been linked to reducing the risk of heart attack. The American Heart Association even recommends that people at risk of heart attack take a daily low-dose of aspirin, as the drug works to prevent the formation of blood clots.

The study linking aspirin and skin cancer is not yet entirely conclusive, but researchers believe the results of the study are promising. Still, the best way to fight skin cancer is to limit sun exposure. Wearing protective clothing, sunscreen and avoiding the sun between peak hours are the most foolproof ways to keep skin cancer at bay. Soon, however, aspirin may be added to the list of things to bring with you on beach day.  

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