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Study Shows An Aspirin A Day Reduces Melanoma Risk

Long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs provide prevention hope

For years, doctors have been prescribing a daily dose aspirin to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. More recently aspirin has proven effective in lowering the risk of colon cancer. A new study from researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute suggests that long-term aspirin use may also significantly lower the risk of cutaneous melanoma (CM), the most deadly form of skin cancer.

"The incidence of cutaneous melanoma continues to climb faster than other common cancers," said senior author Robert Stern, MD, Chief of Dermatology. "Prevention strategies other than sunscreen and reduced sun exposure may help reduce this incidence."

The research team analyzed data to assess cutaneous melanoma risk in association with the long-term use of lipid-lowering agents (LLAs), or statins, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), or aspirin. The results published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology show while the use of statins shows no significant protective benefit, the "continuous use of ASA for five years or more reduces the CM risk by almost half."

In total, 400 melanoma patients participated in the study. Information collected from the melanoma patients was compared with a 600 person control group. The groups were "matched for age, gender, and community." They were asked about previous and current medication use and risk factors for melanoma such as sun exposure history and ease of sun burning.

"Our data supports the idea that, in particular, the long-term use of aspirin has a protective effect," said Stern. "It's possible that long-term use of non-ASA NSAIDs could also reduce risk, but because non-ASA NSAID's like ibuprofen and naproxen are generally taken with less regularity than aspirin, the power to detect a significant association is limited. This study adds another health benefit for the regular use of aspirin in many populations, especially those for whom aspirin is likely to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke."

Co-authors include first author Clara Curiel-Lewandrowski, MD, (formerly of the BIDMC Department of Hematology-Oncology, currently on faculty at the Arizona Cancer Center), Michael Atkins, MD, of the BIDMC Department of Hematology-Oncology and Maria Gomez of the BIDMC Department of Dermatology; and Tamar Nijsten and Loes Hollestein, both of Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

This research was supported by funding from the Harry Lloyd Charitable Trust, the Melanoma Foundation of New England, Kokos Research Fund, Harvard SPORE in Skin Cancer, and the Alan and Janice Levin Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at the University of Arizona.

"Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and currently ranks third in National Institutes of Health funding among independent hospitals nationwide. BIDMC is clinically affiliated with the Joslin Diabetes Center and is a research partner of Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. For more information, visit