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NSAIDS And Melanoma – The Debate Continues

April 2, 2011

Conclusions of a new study do not help to ease any confusion over whether use of painkillers reduces the risk of developing the dangerous skin cancer melanoma.

Laboratory experiments with animals have suggested that painkillers known as nonsteroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may play a role in preventing melanoma, but a 2008 study failed to find evidence supporting the possibility.

Now, however, according to results of a new study, researchers say NSAIDs could offer some protection against the deadly disease.

In the study, people with melanoma and those without were asked to recall their use of NSAIDs. The results showed that taking these drugs, especially aspirin, at least once per week for more than 5 years may have offered some protection against melanoma.

While interesting, the findings should not lead people to think that taking a few painkillers is going to reduce the risk of melanoma, cautioned Dr. Maryam Asgari of Kaiser Permanente Northern California and the University of California San Francisco, co-author of the 2008 study.

NSAIDs — which include aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen — have side effects, noted Asgari. She said using sunscreen and receiving regular skin check-ups are better recommendations than using NSAIDs for the sole purpose of preventing skin cancer.

“I think it’s just too early” to say NSAIDs offer any real protection, Asgari told Reuters Health.

However, a review released earlier this year found that people who use painkillers such as ibuprofen on a regular basis may be less likely to get bladder cancer. And other research has consistently supported the benefits of NSAIDs in preventing colon cancer, and have provided some evidence they may also work for breast and stomach cancers as well.

To investigate whether NSAIDs offer any protection, Dr. Clara Curiel-Lewandrowski of Harvard Medical School and the University of Arizona asked 400 people diagnosed with melanoma and 600 without the disease to recall their use of NSAIDs.

The results showed that people without cancer had a longer history of using NSAIDs than people who eventually developed melanoma. More than 40 percent of cancer-free people said they took NSAIDs at least once per week for more than 5 years, compared to 28 percent of those who developed melanoma. According to the results, the authors report that regular use of NSAIDs for more than 5 years does reduce the risk of developing melanoma by 40 percent.

But, the technique used in the study could be burdened by a number of problems, Asgari noted. For example, you have to get comparisons right. There is always a concern that people without cancer who agree to participate may be more health conscious to begin with, and it is this reason that protects them from developing cancer, not the actual use of NSAIDs.

Her 2008 study followed nearly 64,000 melanoma-free people for two years to see who developed the disease. She and her colleagues found no evidence that taking NSAIDs had any effect on the risk of developing melanoma.

“I wouldn’t recommend (taking NSAIDs to reduce melanoma) just based on this” new study, Asgari told Reuters reporter Alison McCook.

The study is published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

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