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Aspirin may deliver protection from deadly skin cancer

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture

Aspirin may now be good not only for your heart, but also for your skin. An international team of researchers has announced that a daily, low dose aspirin may help prevent at least 50% of cases of melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer.

This is good news for middle aged and older individuals who take the NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) drug to prevent the build-up of plaque in their cardiovascular system. It appears that now they may be helped in preventing another deadly disease whose incidence is on the rise.

Melanoma is less common than other types of skin cancer, but it is the deadliest, often metastasizing to other parts of the body.

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Dr. Robert Stern, a professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School and chief of dermatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston, the study’s co-author, cautions that it is too early to declare conclusively that aspirin may prevent up to half the cases of melanoma, but says that we now have at least a plausible hypothesis. Further research should expand on the current study’s findings, and perhaps shed light on the mechanism of preventive action in aspirin.

Some researchers suspect that cancers like melanoma hijack the body’s inflammatory response to a growing tumor to bring more blood to the site and to help cancer cells slip past the body’s defenses and attach elsewhere, said Dr. John Kirkwood, director of the Melanoma Center at the University of Pittsburgh. And since aspirin blocks the body’s inflammatory response, cancer cells may be blocked from using the body’s inflammatory mechanisms. This would also help explain why other NSAID’s like ibuprofen and naproxen also seem to aid in cancer prevention, though evidence for the other drugs is spottier, since people take them more sporadically.

The anti-inflammatory hypothesis helps explain why aspirin appears to be helpful in preventing colorectal cancer.

Kirkwood hopes that the new study will spur researchers to do a long-term study to look at the impact of NSAIDs prospectively, since the protective effect seen here might not be the result of the medication, but rather something that people who take daily aspirin have in common. Until then, doctors cannot counsel patients to take aspirin specifically for the prevention of melanoma, but at least now, consumers are in a position, for the first time, to do something to help prevent it.