Can Aspirin Fight Skin Cancer?
The largest study on the aspirin-melanoma connection shows promising results
When you pack your summer gear for the beach or a long day hike, do you remember your aspirin? New research published in the journal Cancer suggests a daily dose of this anti-inflammatory decreases women’s risk of developing melanoma.
The study was the largest investigation of its kind and found that women who regularly take aspirin have a significantly lower risk of developing melanoma. It also discovered that protection could be cumulative. That is, the longer you take it, the lower your risk.
Diagnoses of melanoma have increased two percent each year from 2000 to 2009 in the United States, despite greater awareness of the dangers of tanning and the importance of protecting skin against the sun. In 2009, more than 61,000 people were diagnosed with skin cancer.
The research followed 59,806 women between the ages of 50 and 79 for 12 years. The women answered questions about their medication use, diet and lifestyle habits including sun exposure. Even when researchers factored in lifestyle choices that increased skin cancer risk, the results of the study were significant: Women who took aspirin at least twice a week had a 21 percent lower risk of melanoma than women who didn’t take aspirin.
Women's risk also decreased based on how long they were on the aspirin regimen. Women who took the pain killer regularly for one to four years had an 11 percent lower risk of skin cancer than those who did not take the pills during that time. Women who took aspirin for five or more years had a 30 percent lower chance of skin cancer.
The reason for aspirin’s benefits could be its ability to fight inflammation. Inflammation is the immune system’s reaction to stresses, irritants and foreign intruders such as bacteria and viruses. While this is a normal response, too much inflammation can be damaging to the body and results include the growth of cancer cells. Aspirin’s ability to fight inflammation may help it assuage processes that could trigger abnormal cell growth.
This is not the first study to connect anti-inflammatory pain killers to lower risks of cancer. Previous research associated aspirin and other pain-relief drugs such as ibuprofen to significantly lower risks of colon, lung and prostate cancers. It’s important to note, however, that the current study did not find similar results from other anti-inflammatories.
Of course, the potential benefits of aspirin use must be weighed against the risks, including stomach bleeding and clotting disorders, including stroke. Until more research is available, the researchers recommend avoiding tanning beds, using sunscreen with at least SPF 15 protection and sitting in the shade or covering the skin on hot, sunny days.