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09-06-2011 | Article

Pain medications may help reduce skin cancer risk


Free abstract

MedWire News: The likelihood of developing some forms of skin cancer may be reduced by taking aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), new research suggests.

The study, which was undertaken by US researchers, suggests that people who take certain pain medications at least four times each week are at reduced risk for squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

SCC is a form of nonmelanoma skin cancer that is associated with exposure to sunlight as well as exposure to radiation, arsenic, certain chemicals, and infection with certain viruses.

In this study, Margaret Karagas (Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA) and team hypothesized that people who regularly use aspirin and other NSAIDs would be protected from developing nonmelanoma skin cancer. Their rationale was that aspirin and NSAIDs inhibit a molecule called "cyclo-oxygenase 2," which is frequently present in skin tumors.

The researchers studied 1484 adults, 1022 of whom had been diagnosed with nonmelanoma skin cancer. Each participant was interviewed to determine their sun exposure, use of pain medications (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and paracetamol), and other risk factors for skin cancer.

The study found that NSAIDs were used less frequently by patients with skin cancer than by those without skin cancer. After taking account of other variables, the use of paracetamol was associated with a reduced risk for basal cell carcinoma and SCC while the use of NSAIDs - and especially aspirin - was associated with a reduced risk for SCC.

The study also suggested that the use of pain medications was associated with the risk for developing specific subtypes of skin cancer.

"Our findings suggest that a possible protective effect of selected NSAIDs and analgesics may be greater in a molecular subset of tumors," write Karagas and co-authors.

They conclude: "Further work will be required to confirm our results and to elucidate the mechanism underlying the possible preventive effects of NSAIDs on the development of molecular subtypes of SCC."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Joanna Lyford