THE common painkiller aspirin, already found to be effective in reducing the risk of heart disease, may also help lower the incidence of skin cancer, Australian researchers said last Monday.
According to a study undertaken by the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, regularly taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin could offer increased protection against skin cancer and sunspots.
"We found that people who regularly used aspirin and other NSAIDs (non- steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) had significantly lower risks of developing skin cancer than people who did not use them," researcher David Whiteman said.
"Moreover, we found that among people who had never had skin cancer, those who regularly used aspirin had significantly lower numbers of sunspots."
Whiteman said that aspirin-type drugs shut down an enzyme known as cyclo-oxygenase (COX) which allows some types of skin cancer to develop.
"Aspirin blocks the COX enzyme and it just so happens that these enzymes are involved in inflammation... and these enzymes are also used by cancer cells to stimulate blood cells," he told the news agency.
The latest findings, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, are taken from a 15-year study of more than 1,600 residents of a southern Queensland town. While a clinical trial would need to be done to make the findings conclusive, Whiteman said the indications were that aspirin significantly lowered the risk of skin cancers developing. But people needed to take at least two tablets weekly for at least five years before it had an effect. "We saw no benefit from occasional use at all, it was from regular, long- term use," he said.
For those taking two tablets a week for more than five years, there was a 63 per cent reduction in the risk of squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer which accounts for about 20 per cent of cases in Australia, he said. The risk dropped by 90 per cent for those taking eight or more tablets a week for a year, he added.
Whiteman said the findings could change the strategies used to prevent skin cancers, particularly for those at high risk. But he said it was "too early to say this is going to be the cure for skin cancer."
"The best advice is still to stay out of the sun," he said. One Australian is diagnosed with skin cancer every 90 seconds and the disease is the most common cancer in the sun- drenched country.