An aspirin a day keeps skin cancer away? It might help. A large new study from Denmark says regular use of aspirin, ibuprofen or related painkillers—a class of medicines known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs—could cut your risk of developing certain skin cancers, including melanoma (the most deadly kind).
But NSAIDs are controversial. While regularly taking aspirin or other NSAIDs has been linked to reduced risk of things like heart disease, dementia and several other cancers, these painkillers can also promote kidney problems, internal bleeding and other dangerous side effects. In other words: Don’t start taking NSAIDs just for the hell of it, yet; pain relief notwithstanding, health risks could still outweigh health benefits.
“I don’t think I’d recommend to people, ‘Hey, take an aspirin a day to prevent skin cancer,’” Maryam Asgari, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanent, told Reuters Health.
“I don’t think we have enough data to say that. I think we do have enough data to say, certain NSAIDs appear to be promising.”
Asgari added that the best protection against skin cancer remains sun protection.
Still, the NSAID/skin cancer link is interesting; how can one drug help stave off skin cancer, cognitive decline and head pain? The answer hinges on inflammation (which is increasingly seeming like the culprit for so many things that go wrong in our bodies, doesn’t it?).
Sigrun Alba Johannesdottir, lead author of the study, told Reuters that the link makes sense because NSAIDs work by inhibiting specific enzymes involved in inflammation.
“Previous studies show that elevated levels of these enzymes are found in skin cancer and that they are involved in important steps of cancer development such as inhibition of cell death, suppression of the immune system, and stimulation of invasiveness and blood vessel growth,” she explained.
The study, published today in Cancer, found people with a history of using aspirin and other NSAIDs had a 13% lower risk of melanoma and a 15% lower risk of another (less-deadly) form of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. There was no difference in risk of basal cell carcinoma, a third cancer type.