The world’s most common over-the-counter drug may have a new purpose: new research shows that aspirin may help prevent melanoma in older women. Post-menopausal white women who regularly took aspirin were up to 30 percent less likely to develop melanoma than non-aspirin users, according to a recent analysis of the large Women’s Health Initiative study. The longer the women took aspirin, the more they reduced their risk. Thirty-two thousand women in the US will be diagnosed with melanoma this year; the disease will kill 3,120.
In her study of data from 59,806 postmenopausal white women enrolled in the National Institutes of Health-funded Women’s Health Initiative, Stanford University medical student Christina A. Gamba discovered that women who had been taking aspirin regularly less than a year had an approximately 11 percent reduced risk of melanoma compared with nonusers. Those taking it 1-4 years had 20 percent lower risk, and those taking it five years or longer had 30 percent lower risk.
Aspirin’s anti-inflammatory properties may have played a role; studies have previously linked the use of NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) including aspirin with reduced risk of breast, colorectal and gastric cancers, and one early study had specifically found that NSAIDS such as aspirin and ibuprofen reduced melanoma risk in women. However, in Ms. Gamba’s analysis, women who took non-aspirin NSAIDs did not have a lower risk of melanoma. Ms. Gamba speculated this could be because they took the medication less frequently than aspirin users; most of the aspirin users took it daily. She is currently reanalyzing the data to see if anti-inflammatory activity or another mechanism is responsible for the aspirin users’ reduced risk of skin cancer. Ms. Gamba reported her findings at a recent meeting of the Society of Investigative Dermatology. If you are interested in adding aspirin — or any other supplement — to your daily regimen, be sure to speak to your doctor first.