Women who use aspirin for five or more years have a 30% lower risk of developing melanoma skin cancer than women who don’t take aspirin, a new study has found.
Previous studies have linked aspirin with a reduced risk of gastric, colorectal and breast cancer but the new study suggests its anti-inflammatory properties may play a role in skin cancer risk too.
The study, published in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, examined data on 59,806 Caucasian women in the US aged between 50 and 79 years over an average period of 12 years.
The results were adjusted for age, education, body mass index, smoking status, vitamin D intake, physical activity, history of non-melanoma skin cancer, history of melanoma, skin reaction to the sun, regional solar radiation, childhood and current summer sun exposure, sunscreen use, time since last medical visit and other factors.
Women who took aspirin had a 21% lower risk of developing melanoma than women who did not take aspirin, the study found, and longer term use was linked with a further reduction in risk.
Study co-author, Jean Tang, of Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, said other pain relief drugs like acetaminophen did not reduce melanoma risk in women.
“Aspirin works by reducing inflammation and this may be why using aspirin may lower your risk of developing melanoma,” said Dr. Tang.
In comments released by the Australian Science Media Centre, Associate Professor Steven Stacker said the findings were important.
“For many years, doctors have observed the beneficial impact of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, in cancer, without fully comprehending the biological processes involved,” he said.
“Today, many research groups are pulling apart this link to understand these anti-cancer effects, in the hope they can be boosted and replicated through the development of new treatments.”
Prof Mark Wahlqvist, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Monash University and Visiting Professor at the National Health Research Institute in Taiwan, said “more work needs to be done to extrapolate from the US population studied to Australians in general.”
“This would be of great importance as melanoma incidence continues to rise. The authors have access to similar data sets for men and it will be important to know if the findings are gender-specific,” he said.
“Aspirin-like activity is also found in food (after all, aspirin is a salicylate which comes from plants) and again, the study reported has a vast food data base which should be reconciled with the current findings,” he said.
“The authors note a possible protective role for vitamin D and control for it, but no less important is it to know whether Vitamin D interacts with aspirin to allow its apparent effect on melanoma - this is a difficult public health issue given the importance of sun-light in ensuring vitamin D status.”