Aspirin May Help Prevent Melanoma

APRIL 08, 2013
Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP
A population-based study of older Caucasian women indicated that taking aspirin regularly over a longer period led to greater reduction in risk of developing melanoma. 

Older, postmenopausal women who took aspirin regularly had a reduced risk of developing melanoma, according to the results of a study published online on March 11, 2013, in Cancer. The reduction in risk of developing cancer was directly related to the length of time the women took the drug. The researchers observed this effect only with aspirin, and not with other NSAID analgesics.
Researchers collected information on 60,000 older Caucasian women between the ages of 50 and 79 who took part in the Women’s Health Initiative, a 12-year national study. Caucasian women were selected because reduced skin pigmentation increases risk of melanoma. Participants identified their medications and described their lifestyle choices.
The researchers found that women who took aspirin at least twice weekly reduced their chances of developing melanoma by 21% compared with women who did not take aspirin. Furthermore, aspirin’s mitigating effects were directly related to duration of therapy. Women who took aspirin for 1 year experienced an 11% risk reduction; those who took aspirin for 1 to 4 years experienced a 22% risk reduction; and those who took aspirin for more than 5 years experienced up to a 30% risk reduction.
To isolate aspirin’s effect, the researchers took into account confounding factors such as use of sunscreen, tanning, and skin tone.
“There’s a lot of excitement about this because aspirin has already been shown to have protective effects on cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer in women,” the study’s senior author, Jean Tang, MD, PhD, of Stanford University, said in a press release. “This is one more piece of the prevention puzzle.”
The researchers noted that a clinical study is needed to confirm their findings. The current study was population-based and only shows an association between aspirin and reduced risk of developing melanoma. The researchers relied on self-reporting to obtain information on how frequently the women took aspirin as well as other lifestyle factors. The study does not show that aspirin prevents melanoma.
The researchers hypothesized that aspirin’s unique anti-inflammatory effects may be responsible for preventing melanomas. However, they are not ready to suggest that older women begin taking aspirin daily because researchers have no information regarding the required dosage and duration. Furthermore, researchers expressed concerns about aspirin’s side effects, which can include clotting disorders and gastrointestinal bleeding.

Ms. Wick is a visiting professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy and a freelance writer from Virginia.

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