A Pill to Prevent Skin Cancer?

Summer, it seems, has finally arrived.  And with it comes long lazy days at the beach, the pool… and, unfortunately, the associated risk of skin cancer.  To guard against this we all know to limit sun exposure, use high factor sunscreen and seek shade. But now it seems there’s one more thing we can do to help safeguard ourselves – take Advil!

Really?   Yes, it would appear so.  According to a case-control study published in the journal Cancer, the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is associated with reduced risk for skin cancer.

Using health registries, researchers identified 18,500 cases of skin cancer among adults in northern Denmark and matched them to population controls without skin cancer. Patients who had ever used NSAIDs (more than two prescriptions) had a 15% reduced risk for squamous cell carcinoma and a 13% reduced risk for malignant melanoma compared with those who had two or fewer prescriptions; especially when the drugs were taken for seven or more years or at a high intensity.

The risk reduction was seen in patients taking aspirin, NSAIDs, and COX-2 inhibitors, such as Celebrex.

Individuals who took NSAIDs did not appear to gain a generally reduced risk from developing basal cell carcinoma, although they had a 15% and 21% reduced risk of developing this kind of cancer on less-exposed sites (areas other than the head or neck) when taken long term or at a high intensity, respectively.

So how do NSAIDs do it?  The authors suggest that they reduce the risk of skin cancer by blocking COX enzymes, which are involved in the inhibition of apoptosis  and in stimulating angiogenesis. Or, in plain English, these anti-inflammatory drugs counteract the enzymes involved in the important steps of cancer development such as inhibition of cell death and suppression of the immune system.

Despite the positive results, lead author Sigrún Alba Johannesdóttir from Aarhus University Hospital cautions, “because there are also risks associated with the use of NSAIDs, we cannot give recommendations on NSAID use in general. It is up to the patient and his or her physician to balance benefits and harms associated with use of the medications.”

Nevertheless, when viewed alongside the study results fom earlier this year that showed patients who took aspirin daily for at least three years were 36% less likely to develop metastatic cancer and 15% less likely to die from the disease, this can only be good news.

Especially for people like me, who love the sun and can’t make it downstairs without a morning dose of diclofenac!

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