The new study published today in Cancer
, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, examined the medical records of almost 200,000 men and women between 1991 and 2009 in northern Denmark. They discovered that patients who regularly took non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs such as aspirin and ibuprofen, were less likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma or malignant melanoma, two deadly forms of skin cancer.
The length of time people had been taking NSAIDs – along with the dosage amount, also played a role said researchers with longer and higher doses being more preventative.
The study was led by researcher, Sigrun Alba Johannesdottir BSc, of the Dept. of Clinical Epidemiology at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, who looked to see if NSAID medications might decrease the risk of the three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma.
Johannesdottir's team analyzed the medical records of 1,974 patients diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, 13,316 people with basal cell carcinoma, and 3,242 diagnoses of malignant melanoma. The information – including prescription data, was then compared against the medical records of 178,655 patients without skin cancer.
"Individuals who filled more than two prescriptions for NSAIDs" said researchers in a press release
Had a 15 percent decreased risk for developing squamous cell carcinoma and a 13 percent decreased risk for developing malignant melanoma than those who filled two or fewer prescriptions for the medications, especially when the drugs were taken for seven or more years or taken at high intensity.
And although patients using NSAIDs did not seem to benefit from a reduced risk of developing basal cell carcinoma in general, the study did find:
A 15 percent and 21 percent reduced risk of developing this type of cancer on less-exposed sites (body areas other than the head and neck) when they took them long term or at high intensity, respectively.
Johannesdottir explained to Fox News
, that her team wasn't able "to determine the minimal daily or weekly doses needed," but they did find the "protective effect was greatest when used frequently and over a long time period (over 7 years)." The researcher added that further studies are needed "to investigate details of minimal dose and length of treatment."
Previous studies into common painkillers as cancer preventatives have yielded mixed results, but back in March three studies
published in the Lancet
and the Lancet Oncology
, said that patients who took aspirin for at least three years were 36 percent less likely to be diagnosed with metastatic cancer, and 15 percent less likely to die from cancer in general.
Skin cancer diagnoses are also on the rise globally. An April report by Cancer Research UK
, said that two young people in Scotland are diagnosed with malignant melanoma every week. And for the US, the news is no less grim.
In the March/April edition of The Cancer Journal
, Michael A. David, MD, PhD, said that "more than three and a half million skin cancers are diagnosed every year in the US."
The two most commonly diagnosed he explained, are basal cell carcinoma (2.8 million annual cases) and squamous cell carcinoma (700,000 annual cases). The third skin cancer David adds, is the most lethal – melanoma. It is estimated to be diagnosed in 76,250 Americans by the end of 2012 and is responsible for 75 percent of skin cancer-related deaths.
For now, although the study did not address sun exposure (a primary cause of skin cancer) and only hints at a possible link between painkillers and skin cancer prevention, Jóhannesdóttir said:
We hope that the potential cancer-protective effect of NSAIDs will inspire more research on skin cancer prevention. Also, this potential cancer-protective effect should be taken into account when discussing benefits and harms of NSAID use.
Solaraze Gel (diclofenac), a topical NSAID was approved by the Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in Oct. 2000 for actinic keratoses or pre-cancerous skin damage. NSAIDs however, are the second major cause for ulcers and may cause gastrointestinal bleeding. In Jan. 2011 the British Medical Journal
published a study warning that NSAIDs can significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular events in patients who take them on a regular basis.