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Can aspirin lower skin cancer risk?
May 29th, 2012
01:17 PM ET

Can aspirin lower skin cancer risk?

Regular aspirin use, which doctors have long recommended for heart attack and stroke prevention,also may help reduce the risk of some forms of skin cancer, a new study suggests.

An analysis of the medical records of nearly 200,000 Danish adults found that people who filled more than two prescriptions for aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - such as ibuprofen or naproxen - over a 10-year period had a 15% lower risk of squamous cell carcinoma and a 13% lower risk of melanoma when compared with people who had filled one prescription or less.

People who were prescribed high doses of NSAIDs for seven or more years had the lowest skin cancer risk, according to the study, which was published in the journal Cancer.

The study shows only an association, however, and it has some important limitations that preclude any firm conclusions about a possible link between NSAIDs and skin cancer.

The researchers couldn't verify that the study participants actually took their prescriptions, for instance, nor did they have any data on the participants' lifestyle, skin type, or exposure to the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Health.com: How to protect your skin from the sun

Moreover, all of the study participants lived in northern Denmark, so the findings don't necessarily apply to other populations and regions, including the United States, says Dr. Jennifer Y. Lin, a dermatologist at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center, in Boston.

"There may be a real biology and a real explanation as to why [NSAIDs] are so helpful," says Lin, who was not involved in the new research. However, she adds, "It's still too early to tell all skin cancer patients to take these medications."

The keys to preventing skin cancer haven't changed, Lin says: limit sun exposure, use sunscreen and protective clothing, and avoid indoor tanning.

The role of NSAIDs in cancer prevention is an area of growing interest among doctors. Aspirin has been shown to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and precancerous polyps, and in a pair of studies published earlier this year, researchers found that people were less likely to develop or die from cancers - including those of the lung, prostate, and bladder - if they took aspirin daily.

Health.com: 12 ways to prevent colorectal cancer

It's reasonable to think that NSAIDs may fight cancer directly. The drugs reduce pain and inflammation by inhibiting the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes, which are involved not only with inflammation but also with certain processes involved in cancer, such as blood supply to the tumor and programmed cell death (known as apoptosis).

Can an aspirin a day keep cancer away?

In the new study, known as a case-control study, researchers at Aarhus University Hospital analyzed medical records dating back to 1991 to compare NSAID prescriptions in people who had been diagnosed with skin cancer versus people of the same age and from the same region who had never had skin cancer.

NSAID prescriptions were primarily associated with a reduced risk of squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Taking high doses of aspirin over many years, for instance, was associated with a 35% lower risk of squamous cell carcinoma and a 46% lower risk of melanoma, which is the deadliest skin cancer and one of the deadliest cancers in general.

Health.com: Is it a mole...or skin cancer?

NSAIDs were also associated with a decreased risk of basal cell carcinoma, but only on parts of the body - such as the trunk and back - that aren't routinely exposed to the sun. One explanation for this finding may be that COX enzymes work differently in less exposed parts of the body, the study notes.

The new findings are "important" and are likely to spur a lot of follow-up research, Lin says. The idea that NSAIDs may protect against skin cancer "has been floating around for 10 to 20 years, but nothing has been so definitive," she adds.

That doesn't mean you should stock up aspirin, Advil, or Aleve. The link between NSAIDs and skin cancer risk needs to be confirmed in future studies, and overusing NSAIDs carries some risks, notably an increased likelihood of ulcers and stomach bleeding.

Copyright Health Magazine 2011

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Filed under: Health.com • Skin Cancer

soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Count Chocula

    Does the sun ever shine In Denmark?

    May 29, 2012 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark Glicker

      Seems that it would take a lot of tablets to cover all the skin.

      May 29, 2012 at 22:43 | Report abuse |
    • no

      no

      May 30, 2012 at 08:16 | Report abuse |
    • CatastropheCathy

      using an umbrella, hat and sunscreens without loads of chemicals can also help with skin cancer and not cause other problems either.

      May 30, 2012 at 15:04 | Report abuse |
    • PETE

      ASK JUSTIN BIEBER, HE WILL KNOW WHAT TO DO.

      May 30, 2012 at 16:51 | Report abuse |
  2. Max Brooks from Florida

    Marijuana can cure skin cancer without any side-effects. Look it up.

    May 29, 2012 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark Glicker

      Or perhaps make you forget that you have it.

      May 30, 2012 at 01:09 | Report abuse |
    • Max Brooks from Florida

      LOL @ Mark Glicker

      On a serious note though, the marijuana is applied topically to the skin so the patient doesn't actually get high from the process.

      May 30, 2012 at 06:15 | Report abuse |
  3. Karmina

    Ok, so aspirin may lower your risk of skin cancer.. They failed to mention the substantial increase in the risk of liver cancer that aspirin has been proven to cause. Which would you rather have: a mole removed or a slow, painful death from liver cancer?

    May 29, 2012 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Fifi

      Karmina, my fairer and another family member died from melanoma. It's more than having a "little mole" removed. I hope you get to experiment yourself.

      May 29, 2012 at 19:46 | Report abuse |
    • Fifi

      *experience it yourself.

      Dam ned autocorrect.

      May 29, 2012 at 19:47 | Report abuse |
    • kelleycecilia

      Just take two minutes to find out the secret to make money online in 2 simple steps. Just give it a try and you will believe me...that its really true,
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      May 29, 2012 at 22:45 | Report abuse |
    • Rodger

      Asprin has nothing to do with liver cancer. There have been many links to asprin reducing the incidence of many types of cancer. Tylenol, Acetaminophen, is associated with liver damage since it is metabolized there.

      May 29, 2012 at 22:55 | Report abuse |
    • wendy

      glad you said that, have lupus and am very allergic to the sun. always looking for helpful info

      May 31, 2012 at 13:54 | Report abuse |
  4. Fifi

    Key words : northern Denmark. It took six paragraphs to find out how useless this study is.

    May 29, 2012 at 19:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BillRubin

      The control group was also from Denmark.

      May 30, 2012 at 17:53 | Report abuse |
  5. fernace

    This is actually Hopeful news! Denmark is considered to be a southern member of the Scandinavian nations (incl. Sweden & Norway on the Scandinavian peninsula), so this study affects all nations in & around the arctic circle! While we, (I'm Swedish), live in fairly extreme nothern climes, we see the sun quite often! Nothing like a crosscountry ski, w/the sun on your back! Problem is, since we live in vicinity/inside the North Polar circle, we have very weak ozone protection! Some may have seen the map of that huge hole right above the North Pole! Snow is a reflectant, so this is good news! Perhaps it doesn't qualify for a breakthrough in you neck of the woods, but it makes a difference to those who's woods this study pertains! Namely, the nations w/in the Polar Circle!!

    May 29, 2012 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. bob

    The researchers couldn't verify that the study participants actually took their prescriptions, for instance, nor did they have any data on the participants' lifestyle, skin type, or exposure to the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

    Enough said

    May 30, 2012 at 00:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. EdL

    A new study! O Happy Day! I can hardly wait for the next one! I have great admiration for those who come up with new studies, almost daily here comes another!

    May 30, 2012 at 00:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • allenwoll

      CORRECT ! ! ! . We need a study on studies ! ! i

      It is all UN-sinn : NON-sense ! ! !

      May 30, 2012 at 05:24 | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      The news media never seem to care about who funded the "study". If the coffee brewers association funds a study that finds coffee is good for you, is it really a study or a slightly veiled commercial? Is it news or is it an ad? Getting more and more difficult to tell.

      May 30, 2012 at 09:45 | Report abuse |
  8. silvereagle

    Well it took over 6 years but this time when I went to my skin cancer doctor she found nothing.I have been taking aspirin for about 8 years ,I guess this works.

    May 30, 2012 at 05:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Annie

    There should always be a drug to do wonders! No recommendation of foods and lifestyle changes. I wonder how much Big Pharma pays for these researches.

    May 30, 2012 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. The Conduit.

    Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?

    May 30, 2012 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Miss Dynamite

    Correlation does not prove causation. For example, I suffer from migraines and headaches, and when they are coming on I'm very sensitive to light. Ergo, I take painkillers and avoid the sun. The painkillers wouldn't be reducing my incidence of skin cancer, the avoidance of the sun would. Insufficient data to make any conclusions apart from correlation.

    May 31, 2012 at 14:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Blueangel

    Asprin has been recommended for years for heart disease and probably everyone over 40 is taking it anyways, so why is there still cancer?

    June 20, 2012 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Speron

    Chicago Skin Cancer Surgery provides the best Skin cancer procedure, skin cancer therapy, skin cancer treatment to its patients at very affordable prices. To schedule an appointment with Dr.Speron, contact his office located at Park Ridge, IL 60068 or online at http://www.chicagoskincancersurgery.com

    March 28, 2014 at 03:16 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.