Can aspirin reduce your risk of getting skin cancer?

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Headlines may have you wondering whether taking a daily aspirin is a good way to reduce your risk of getting several diseases, including skin cancer.

Could an aspirin a day keep skin cancer away? While a few studies have reached this conclusion, dermatologist caution that the decision to take this medication is best made by you and your doctor. Here’s why.

Aspirin has possible side effects

Taking an aspirin every once and while to treat a headache or other pain is considered safe for most adults. When you take aspirin every day, you increase your risk of developing side effects. These possible side effects include bleeding in your stomach, intestines, or brain. This type of bleeding can be very serious.

People who take a daily aspirin also have a higher risk of developing a stomach ulcer.

For these reasons, a doctor carefully weighs the risks and benefits for each patient before recommending a daily aspirin. A doctor can also help a patient to take aspirin safely.

Findings from aspirin studies differ

Dermatologists continue to look for ways to prevent melanoma, the most serious skin cancer. Because some patients take daily aspirin per their doctor’s recommendation, researchers have looked at these medical records to find out whether aspirin can also reduce the risk of developing melanoma.

Findings from these studies differ. In one large study, researchers discovered that women who took aspirin regularly had a lower risk of developing melanoma than women who seldom took aspirin. In another study, researchers found that the men who took a daily aspirin had twice the risk of developing melanoma as men who did not take a daily aspirin.

Other studies have also revealed inconsistent results. In some studies, researchers found that taking aspirin regularly had no effect on whether a person developed melanoma.

While it’s still unclear whether aspirin can reduce the risk of getting melanoma or any other skin cancer, research has given us one very effective way to prevent skin cancer.

Sun protection proven to reduce your skin cancer risk

You can reduce your risk of getting all types of skin cancer, including melanoma, by protecting your skin from the sun and never using a tanning bed or tanning lamp. Both the sun and indoor tanning equipment are strong sources of UV light.

Because protecting your skin from harmful UV light has been proven to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer, dermatologists recommend the following for everyone:

  • Apply sunscreen every day to all skin that clothing won’t cover, using a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, SPF 30 or higher, and water resistance.

  • Seek shade when outdoors.

  • Wear pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat whenever possible when you’re outdoors.

  • Never use indoor tanning equipment, such as tanning beds and sun lamps.

This approach works for everyone, regardless of skin color. It even works for people who have a greater risk of developing skin cancer, such as skin cancer survivors.

A dermatologist can tell you if aspirin is recommended for you

While sun protection can reduce the risk of getting skin cancer, some people have a greatly increased risk of developing skin cancer and need extra protection. You may need extra protection if you have 100 or more moles on your skin, dysplastic nevus syndrome, or several family members who have had melanoma.

Even if you need extra protection, be sure to talk with your dermatologist before taking a daily aspirin. A dermatologist can weigh your individual risks and benefits and tell you whether taking a daily aspirin is recommended.


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References
Famenini S, Duan L, et al. “Aspirin use and melanoma: A UCLA pilot study.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2015; 72(6):1094-5.

Famenini S and Young LC. “Aspirin use and melanoma risk: A review of the literature.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014;70(1):187-91.

Gamba CA, Swetter SM, et al. “Aspirin is associated with lower melanoma risk among postmenopausal Caucasian women.” Cancer. 2013; 119(8):1562-9.

Muranushi C, Olsen CM, et al. “Can oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs play a role in the prevention of basal cell carcinoma? A systematic review and meta-analysis.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;74(1):108–19.e1.

Orrell KA, Cices AD, et al. “Malignant melanoma associated with chronic once daily aspirin exposure in males: a large, single-center, urban, U.S. patient population cohort study from the Research on Adverse Drug events And Reports (RADAR) project.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018 Mar 27. pii: S0190-9622(18)30485-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2018.03.031. [Epub ahead of print]

Zhu Y, Cheng Y, et al. “Aspirin for the primary prevention of skin cancer: A meta-analysis.” Oncol Lett. 2015; 9(3):1073-80.