The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen may reduce the risk of developing skin cancer, according to a recent study published in the journal Cancer.
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, with more than one million new diagnoses each year. The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma is a less common form of skin cancer, but tends to be more aggressive.
Previous studies have indicated that NSAIDs might offer a protective benefit against cancer, including a recent study that found that a daily aspirin could reduce cancer incidence and mortality.
This study included data from all skin cancer cases in Northern Denmark between 1991 and 2009: 1,974 cases of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC); 13,316 cases of basal cell carcinoma (BCC); and 3,242 cases of malignant melanoma (MM). In addition, the researchers used data from nearly 179,000 population controls—with 10 controls matched to each case by age, gender, and country of residence. They measured the use of aspirin and other NSAIDs through a prescription database.
The results indicated that individuals who had ever used NSAIDs (defined as filling two or more prescriptions for the medications) were 15 percent less likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 13 percent less likely to develop malignant melanoma compared to those who did not use NSAIDs (which was defined as two or fewer prescriptions). Long-term use (7 or more years) and high-intensity use was associated with an even stronger effect. NSAID use was not associated with a reduced risk of basal cell carcinoma of the head and neck areas, but long-term, high-intensity use of NSAIDs was associated with a reduction of BCC in less-exposed areas of the body.
The researchers concluded that NSAID use may be associated with a reduced risk of squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma; however, NSAIDs are no substitute for sunscreen. Individuals are still encouraged to limit sun exposure, use sun protection, and undergo annual dermatological screening.
 Johannesdottir SA, Chang ET, Mehnert F, et al. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and the risk of skin cancer: A population-based case-control study. Cancer. Published early online May 29, 2012. DOI: 10.1002/cncr.27406
 Rothwell PM, Price JF, Fowkes FGR et al. Short-term effects of daily aspirin on cancer incidence, mortality, and non-vascular death: analysis of the time course of risks and benefits n 51 randomised controlled trials. Lancet. Early online publication March 21, 2012.
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