Taking basic painkillers like aspirin 'can help protect against skin cancer'
08:03 GMT, 29 May 2012
Painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen may help prevent skin cancer, claim researchers.
Taking the pills on a regular basis has been shown to reduce the risk of the commonest forms of the illness by 15 per cent.
A study by Danish researchers also found that the painkillers protected against the most deadly type of tumour, malignant melanoma, by 13 per cent.
Benefit: Scientists have found that taking aspirin regularly can reduce the chance of skin cancer by 15 per cent
The scientists believe that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, prevent the production of enzymes which cause cancer growth.
They studied the medical files of nearly 200,000 Danish patients and recorded how many cases of skin cancer had occurred between 1991 and 2009.
The experts – whose study is published in the journal Cancer – specifically looked at basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, the most common types, and malignant melanoma, the most deadly.
Patients who had regularly taken a NSAID painkiller on at least two occasions during this time were 15 per cent less likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 13 per cent less at risk of malignant melanoma.
There was no apparent protection from basal cell carcinoma although the scientists could not explain why.
Sigrn Alba Jhannesdttir, from Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, who lead the research said: ‘We hope that the potential cancer-protective effect of NSAIDs will inspire more research on skin cancer prevention.
‘Also, this potential cancer-protective effect should be taken into account when discussing benefits and harms of NSAID use.’
Around 100,000 patients every year develop either basal or squamous cell carcinoma but about 90 per cent will make a full recovery with treatment.
Another 12,000 develop malignant melanoma every year and it leads to around 2,000 deaths.
But Hazel Nunn, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, urged patients not to start taking aspirin just on the basis of this research.
She said: ‘This study has several limitations – for example, the researchers only looked at people’s medical prescription, which meant they couldn’t tell whether those who had been prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin had actually been taking them.
‘And they didn’t have records of people using over-the-counter painkillers. There is mounting evidence that aspirin does reduce the risk of some cancers, but it’s too soon to say if this includes skin cancer.
‘Aspirin can have serious side effects – so it’s important to talk to a doctor about the risks and benefits if you’re thinking of taking it regularly.'