Does Aspirin Decrease Melanoma Risk? Data Show It Might
Doctors have been prescribing it for decades for its protective cardiovascular properties. Millions of beating hearts are benefiting from it right now. Its ability to relieve pain and fever is so well known that “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning” is engrained in our psyche.
But it seems your dermatologist may have reason to start recommending it as well. Could it be that a generic pill, costing about a penny, can decrease your chance for developing melanoma? According to a new study published in the highly respected journal CANCER, aspirin may be a new weapon in our war with melanoma.
Research On Aspirin And Melanoma
Researchers analyzed data on 60,000 women from the Women’s Health Initiative study and found that women taking aspirin several days a week had up to a 30 percent reduction in melanoma (You may remember the Women’s Health Initiative as the study that shattered the dogma of indiscriminate hormone replacement therapy for women).
Of course like anything in medicine, this information is not as one-dimensional as it may seem. It is premature to recommend everybody start gobbling aspirin to ward off skin cancer. The study exclusively looked at postmenopausal white women and the information was collected off questionnaires filled out yearly by the participants. The dosage of aspirin was self-reported but appears to show a full strength, 325 mg, imparting the benefit over the “baby” 81 mg pill.
Keep in mind, this is observational data only. It doesn’t prove an absolute cause and effect relationship. The truth is still rather elusive as previous attempts to prove this link have shown mixed results. Still it is quite encouraging.
Anti-inflammatory Drugs And Cancer
Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen have been getting the attention of cancer researchers. It is interesting that the study exclusively linked aspirin and not the other anti-inflammatory drugs with the stated benefit. It is known that some skin cancers other than melanoma can partially be prevented by regular usage of all anti-inflammatories (FYI: Tylenol doesn’t count). Mounting data trickles in each year showing encouraging results in the realms of colon, breast, ovary and prostate cancers. The needed confirmatory research seems slow to materialize, however. I suspect this is because aspirin is so cheap and readily available. There is no billion-dollar drug here for industry to get behind.
I’ve heard some dermatologists worry that people will start popping aspirin and stop wearing sunscreen, which is still the gold standard for skin cancer prevention. It is worth remembering that aspirin is not without potential side effects and you should discuss your situation with your doctor. It certainly is not a replacement for sunscreen.
In my humble opinion, aspirin should be ranked with the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel. It is one of mankind’s greatest discoveries. Its natural active ingredient has been used in some form or another since recorded history began and by many cultures the world over. Its cardiovascular benefit has only been known for about 60 years.
Now we are looking at the real possibility that it can help prevent many common cancers. Considering most Americans die of heart disease or cancer, aspirin is poised to become an underappreciated yet indispensable substances in our human pharmacopeia.
Dr. Derrick Adams is a board-certified dermatologist and the medical director of Vita Dermatology and Laser Institute, a division of Lassen Medical Group in Red Bluff. His office can be reached at 528-VITA.