THE QUESTION Taking aspirin has been linked to preventing some types of cancer, including breast and colorectal. Might it also help prevent melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer?
THIS STUDY analyzed data on 59,806 post-menopausal women, 50 to 79 years old. About a fourth of them took aspirin regularly, mostly in regular-strength or extra-strength forms. About 15 percent of the women took only non-aspirin NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, and about 60 percent used neither aspirin nor non-aspirin NSAIDs. In about a 12-year span, 548 of the women developed melanoma. Those who regularly took aspirin were 21 percent less likely to have developed melanoma than those who never used an NSAID of any sort. The longer they had taken aspirin, the lower their risk, with women who’d taken aspirin for five years or more being 30 percent less likely to have developed melanoma than women who took no aspirin. No link to melanoma was found for non-aspirin NSAIDs or for acetaminophen.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Middle-age and older women. Skin cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer, and melanoma its most serious form, accounting for less than 5 percent of all skin cancers (an estimated 77,000 new cases in the United States this year) but the majority of deaths (more than 9,000). Protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays is the main way to prevent skin cancer.
CAVEATS Data on aspirin and other NSAID use came from the women’s recollections. The study included only white women; whether the findings apply to men or to those of other races remains unclear. The statistical analysis adjusted for pigmentation, sun exposure and sunscreen use as well as any previous skin cancer, but data on eye and hair color and family history of melanoma were not available. The study did not determine whether risk varied by dosage. One of the 10 authors was a consultant for Genentech, which makes some NSAIDs.
FIND THIS STUDY March 11 online issue of Cancer.
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.