Aspirin Linked to Melanoma Prevention

A new study says women who took aspirin regularly were 21 percent less likely to contract melanoma than those who didn't.

aspirinAspirin photo via Shutterstock

You’d have to be living in a cave to not know that wearing sunscreen every day is the best way to prevent melanoma, a skin cancer that the American Cancer Society estimates will be diagnosed in almost 77,000 people and result in nearly 10,000 deaths this year alone. But a new study says taking aspirin could cut down on your risk of getting the disease, too.

The study, published online in the journal Cancer and conducted by the Women’s Health Initiative, observed 59,806 Caucasian women between the ages of 50 and 79, some who regularly took aspirin and some who did not, for an average of 12 years. Over the course of the study, researchers found that women who took aspirin at least twice a week were at a 21 percent lower risk for melanoma than those who did not, with that number lowering further the longer they had been taking the drug regularly. The algorithm the researchers used also factored in classic melanoma risk factors like sunscreen wearing habits, tanning, and fairness of the skin.

In an NBC News article about the report, Jean Tang, the study’s co-author, offered a hypothesis for why aspirin helps with melanoma:

“Aspirin reduces inflammation,” Tang said. “Cancer cells with a lot of inflammation grow more and are more aggressive.” Tang added that cancer cells tend to produce in excess the very same substance that aspirin and other NSAIDs knock back.

The news—which piggybacks on a 2011 study by Robert Stern, chief of dermatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, that found that aspirin reduced melanoma risk by 50 percent—is encouraging, especially for those whose family history or pigmentation puts them at heightened risk for skin cancer. But it bears mentioning that older, more established science has linked the drug to gastrointestinal bleeding and strokes in some patients, especially those with a bleeding or clotting disorder or bleeding stomach ulcers. So if your risk factors for taking aspirin outweigh your chances of getting melanoma, it’s still probably best to leave the drug on the shelf and prevent skin cancer the old fashioned way: with good old SPF.