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Aspirin May Lower Melanoma Risk

New research has found that women who take aspirin have a reduced risk of developing melanoma, and that the longer they take it, the lower the risk.

Overall, women who used aspirin had a 21% lower risk of melanoma relative to non-users, with each incremental increase in duration of aspirin use associated with an 11% lower risk of melanoma. The findings suggest that aspirin’s anti-inflammatory effects may help protect against this type of skin cancer.

“The findings are an important reminder of the therapeutic potential of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in cancer. For many years, doctors have observed the beneficial impact of NSAIDs, such as aspirin, in cancer, without fully comprehending the biological processes involved.

“Today, many research groups are pulling apart this link to understand these anti-cancer effects in the hope they can be boosted and replicated through the development of new treatments.”

Associate Professor Steven Stacker is co-Head of the Tumour Angiogenesis Program at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. In February 2012 his team discovered a gene (pgdh) that embodies a link between NSAIDs and the ability for tumours to spread in the body.

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“The results provide important information to stimulate further research in inflammation and NSAIDs in melanoma. However, the results and design of this study are not sufficient in any way to conclude that people can take aspirin to prevent melanoma.

“Preventing exposure to UV radiation from the sun and solariums remains the best way to reduce the risk of melanoma. We will, however, be watching further studies of this kind with great interest.”

Professor Grant McArthur is Director of the Melanoma Service and Head of the Translational Research Laboratory at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

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“The findings among Caucasian post-menopausal American women that aspirin – itself a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug associated with decreased risk of gastric, colorectal and breast cancer – might decrease the risk of melanoma may be generalisable to other at-risk populations like Australians. This would be of great importance as melanoma incidence continues to rise.

“The authors have access to similar data sets for men, and it will be important to know if the findings are gender-specific.

“Aspirin-like activity is also found in food (after all, aspirin is a salicylate which comes from plants), and again, the study reported has a vast food data base which should be reconciled with the current findings.

“The authors note a possible protective role for vitamin D and control for it, but no less important is it to know whether vitamin D interacts with aspirin to allow its apparent effect on melanoma. This is a difficult public health issue given the importance of sunlight in ensuring vitamin D status.

“The study opens up opportunities for melanoma prevention, but more work needs to be done to extrapolate from the US population studied to Australians in general.”

Prof Mark Wahlqvist is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Monash University, and Visiting Professor at the National Health Research Institute in Taiwan.

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