Add lower melanoma risk in women to list of aspirin's benefits

2013-03-29T00:00:00Z 2013-03-29T10:16:03Z Add lower melanoma risk in women to list of aspirin's benefitsConner Forrest/MEDILL
March 29, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Aspirin is not just for headaches anymore. A recent study found that women who take aspirin have a lower risk of developing melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, than women who do not take it.

The data was gathered from Women’s Health Initiative surveys of nearly 60,000 white women between the ages of 50 and 79 years old. Researchers observed a suggested correlation between the duration of taking the medicine and total overall risk. The longer the aspirin had been taken, the lower the risk.

The study adds to the potential benefits of aspirin. Low-dose aspirin is commonly recommended by doctors to lower the risk of heart attacks.

“Other researchers have shown that aspirin reduces the risk of certain cancers such as breast cancer, [gastrointestinal] cancer, stomach cancer and colorectal cancer. Melanoma is on the rise, especially in women, and so we sought to examine whether aspirin may be associated with lower melanoma risk,” said Dr. Jean Tang, of Stanford University.

The study was a secondary data analysis of a long-term international survey called the Women’s Health Initiative. Tang and her team mined the data collected from this study and used it to research their question. Tang emphasized that this suggests this correlation, but it is not definitive because it was not tested in a clinical trial.

Although the women studied were postmenopausal, Tang said she sees no reason why the aspirin regimen wouldn’t work with younger women, or even men. She also cautions against using aspirin as a go-to remedy, as stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding are known side-affects, but it may be useful for women who are at a higher risk for developing melanoma.

“We know that melanoma is deadly if you end up with a bad primary cancer and, beyond that, our young women in this country don’t necessarily understand the risks that there are with indoor tanning and sun exposure in general,” said Gamba.

Although rare, melanoma can metastasize, meaning it can spread cancer cells to other organs. The Stanford findings are merely a foundation to build on, however, researchers are not ready to equate taking a daily aspirin combat melanoma with a daily aspirin to combat heart problems. Correlations have not been fully worked out as they hold two separate risk-to-benefit ratios, Gamba said.

While this may not be a quick fix, it does provide interesting insight into what can help combat cancerous cells in the body. Gamba hopes to be able to study these affects in a clinical trial, but she still sees value in the findings.

“This is a cancer that is very concerning and we see rising incidents among women,” Gamba said “It’s important to explore ways to prevent that. And that is one of the driving forces behind this study.”

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