A new study is adding to the growing body of evidence that aspirin and other over-the-counter painkillers help protect against cancer. Danish researchers found that people who regularly take aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, have a lower risk of melanoma and squamous cell skin cancer.
The study is being published online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society,
Researchers at Aarhus University Hospital analyzed medical records from northern Denmark from 1991 through 2009 and identified over 18,500 diagnosed cases of squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma or malignant melanoma. Prescription information from those patients was compared to those of over 178,000 individuals without skin cancer.
People who filled more than two prescriptions for NSAIDs had a 15 percent lower decreased risk for squamous cell carcinoma and a 13 percent lower risk for malignant melanoma. The risk of those cancers was even lower for people who took the painkillers for more than seven years and in higher doses. Taking NSAIDs did not reduce the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma.
“We hope that the potential cancer-protective effect of NSAIDs will inspire more research on skin cancer prevention,” wrote lead author Sigrun Alba Johannesdottir of Aarhus University Hospital. “Also, this potential cancer-protective effect should be taken into account when discussing benefits and harms of NSAID use.”
Research published earlier this year found that low dose aspirin lowers the mortality rate and risk of several types of cancers. Another study found that daily use of aspirin lowers the risk of colon and esophageal cancer.
Recommending aspirin as a cancer preventative has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Current clinical guidelines for aspirin only consider its cardiovascular benefits — and only if the benefits outweigh the harm, such as bleeding. NSAIDs are known to cause gastrointestinal bleeding and renal problems.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of cancer. It grows slowly and rarely spreads. Squamous cell carcinoma grows faster than basal cell. Both types of skin cancer are treatable.
Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and can spread quickly to other parts of the body. Melanoma is the leading cause of death from skin disease.