Regularly taking common pain drugs including ibuprofen and aspirin may lower an individual’s risk of developing skin cancer, according to a recent study based in Denmark.
In the aspirin and cancer prevention study, individuals who took NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, welanoma and two other forms of skin cancer than the gere significantly less likely to develop malignant meneral population.
According to lead aspirin and cancer prevention researcher and epidemiologist Sigrún Jóhannesdóttir of Aarhus University Hospital, the study’s findings shouldn’t be taken as a reason to start using NSAIDs only for skin cancer prevention because they come with possible side effects of their own, including the possibility of internal bleeding and ulcers.
A Carefully Conducted Aspirin and Cancer Prevention Study
To complete their study, researchers from Aarhus University Hospital analyzed the medical records of Danish people who received a skin cancer diagnosis between the years of 1991 and 2009. Of this group…
13,000 were diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma
3,000 were diagnosed with malignant melanoma
2,000 were diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma
Next, the researchers identified 10 skin cancer-free individuals for every individual with skin cancer. The researchers ensured that these healthy individuals were the same gender and roughly the same age as those with skin cancer.
Finally, they compared the individuals’ NSAID prescriptions over the course of the study period. It should be noted that most people in Denmark seek prescriptions for NSAIDs instead of purchasing them over the counter because the Danish government subsidizes prescription medication costs.
Up to 46% Reduction in Skin Cancer Risk
After analyzing the health data, the researchers discovered that individuals who filled at least two NSAID prescriptions during the study period were 13% less susceptible to malignant melanoma and 15% less susceptible to squamous cell carcinoma as compared to individuals who filled fewer than two NSAID prescriptions. Jóhannesdóttir said that NSAIDs only appeared to help basal cell carcinoma patients in areas of their bodies that receive minimal sun exposure.
Further, the researchers discovered that individuals who regularly took NSAIDs for a period of at least 7 years were 17% to 46% less likely to develop skin cancer than their peers, with that figure varying depending on the type of skin cancer and its location on the body.
The Most Common Cancer in America
Skin cancer is the most common cancer type in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. It’s estimated that doctors will diagnose roughly 2 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancers in 2012, with 1,000 people dying from these diseases.
Unfortunately, melanoma is far much more deadlier, with 76,000 diagnoses and 9,000 deaths expected this year in the United States alone.
In this study and in previous studies linking NSAIDs with a reduction in colorectal cancer risk, researchers believe that the apparent anti-cancer properties of NSAIDs may be due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
According to Jóhannesdóttir, inflammation is a component of a wide range of dissorders, including both autoimmune diseases and allergies. NSAIDs are by far the most common drugs designed to inhibit the body’s inflammatory processes. The only over-the-counter NSAIDs sold in Denmark include low-dose ibuprofen and aspirin, though other NSAIDs such as Meloxicam and Celecoxib are available in the United States.
More Research is Needed
According to Jóhannesdóttir, previous clinical studies have indicated that COX-2 inhibitors (including Celecoxib or Celebrex) are most effective at preventing squamous cell carcinoma, while NSAIDs are better at warding off basal cell carcinoma.
However, Jóhannesdóttir says that more research is needed to determine whether the effectiveness of NSAIDs in preventing skin cancer is dependent on an individual’s preexisting risk for such cancers. The researchers theorize that higher-risk individuals will benefit more from NSAIDs than lower-risk individuals.
The researchers are not recommending that individuals take NSAIDs for the express purpose of preventing cancer. For now, they said that wearing sunblock and avoiding prolonged direct sun exposure is the best way to prevent many types of skin cancer.
Aspirin and Cancer Prevention: The Bottom Line
The Clinical Epidemiological Research Foundation of Denmark recently funded a study conducted by Aarhus University Hospital, finding that anti-inflammatory medications known as NSAIDs and including ibuprofen and aspirin reduce skin cancer risk.
The full text of the study can be found online in the medical journal Cancer.