Women who take aspirin have a reduced risk of developing melanomas, with the anti-cancer effect increasing each year they take the drug, new research shows.
A US study of almost 60,000 women aged 50 to 79, published in the journal 'Cancer', showed that those who took aspirin regularly were less likely to develop melanomas over 12 years than those who did not take it.
Overall, women who used aspirin were 21 per cent less likely to develop melanomas - a figure that rose to 30 per cent in women who used aspirin for five or more years.
Researchers led by Jean Tang, of Stanford University, controlled for factors that may have affected skin-cancer risk, including tanning practices and sunscreen use.
The findings add to a growing body of evidence about the benefits of aspirin in preventing cancer.
Previous studies have shown that a daily dose of aspirin can reduce the risk of developing breast, lung and bowel cancer.
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre researcher Steven Stacker said aspirin's role in preventing inflammation probably had anti-cancer effects.
''Cancer is a whole raft of diseases and they all have particular characteristics, so it's a bit hard to predict with accuracy whether [aspirin] is playing the same role in each of them,'' he said.
''We certainly know from data coming through from these solid tumours - like breast, lung and colon - that aspirins are having a role in preventing metastasis, so preventing the spread from the primary tumour to another site. Whether it is playing the same role in melanoma, we don't know yet.''
Associate Professor Stacker recently found that lymphatic vessels expand to allow cancer to spread through the body, in a process that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin may be able to shut down.
He said researchers were working to better understand the anti-cancer effects of drugs like aspirin, ''in the hope they can be boosted and replicated through the development of new treatments''.
Aspirin is recommended to patients with vascular problems because it helps prevent blood clots.
But doctors say it is too early for healthy people to take it daily to prevent cancer because it could cause catastrophic bleeding and slow bleeds that led to anaemia, particularly in the elderly.
Director of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre's melanoma service, Grant McArthur, said the study provided important information to stimulate further research into the effect of aspirin-like drugs on melanomas.
''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,'' he said.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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