Painkillers may help ward off skin cancer

Aspirin, ibuprofen and other common painkillers may help protect against skin cancer, medical researchers say.

Sigrún Alba Jóhannesdóttir of Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark and her colleagues examined the three major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma.

They analyzed medical records from northern Denmark from 1991 through 2009 and compared the incidence of the cancers with prescription data on painkillers.

And, they found, people who filled more than two prescriptions for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, which include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen were less likely to suffer from two of the cancers.

They had a 15 percent lower risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma and a 13 percent lower risk of developing malignant melanoma than those who filled two or fewer prescriptions for the medications. The effect showed up particularly strongly when the drugs were taken for seven or more years or were taken in large doses.

And even though NSAIDs didn’t seem to cut the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma in general, they were linked with a 15 percent and 21 percent reduced risk of developing this type of cancer on less-exposed parts of the body when they took them long term or at high intensity, respectively.

“We hope that the potential cancer-protective effect of NSAIDs will inspire more research on skin cancer prevention,” says Jóhannesdóttir. “Also, this potential cancer-protective effect should be taken into account when discussing benefits and harms of NSAID use.”