General painkillers tied to lower skin cancer risk

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – In a new study from Denmark, people who had taken aspirin, ibuprofen and related painkillers — particularly at high doses and for years at a time — were less likely to get skin cancer, compared to those who seldom used those medications.The conclusion add to growing evidence that long-term use of the medications, known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, may help protect people against skin cancers, including melanoma, the deadliest type.

Still, research has not been unanimous in that finding: one great 2008 report found no link between NSAIDs and melanoma. The drugs have also been linked to an increased risk of kidney cancer and come with known bleeding risks — so more research is needed to weigh the feasible harms and benefits of the drugs outside of pain relief, researchers said. But the lead author on the new study said it would make sense if NSAIDs were tied to skin cancer hazard.

“NSAIDs work by inhibiting specific enzymes involved in irritation,” Sigrun Alba Johannesdottir, from Aarhus University Hospital, told Reuters Health in an email. “Previous studies show that elevated levels of these enzymes are found in skin cancer and that they are involved in important steps of cancer enlargement such as inhibition of cell death, suppression of the immune system, and stimulation of invasiveness and blood vessel growth,” she explained. For the new study, Johannesdottir and her colleagues looked back at records from more than 18,000 people in northern Denmark with skin cancer, both melanoma and less-risky forms of the disease, between 1991 and 2009. They matched each of those cancer cases with another ten people of the same age and gender without cancer and compared their treatment drug records for the years before the cancer patients were diagnosed. Thirty-eight percent of people without cancer had filled more than two prescriptions for an NSAID, according to their health records.

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