(RxWiki News) Over the past few years a lot of molecular research has speculated on the possible effects that drugs that directly combat inflammation, such as aspirin, Tylenol, and Advil, may have on cancer development.
The theory that long term inflammation results in increased risk of cancer has a lot of evidence behind it, but proving that anti-inflammatory drugs actually lower that risk is something different entirely.
"Ask your doctor about the benefits of aspirin."
Since the Danish government includes universal health care access, public records were able to provide researchers data not only on people who had developed skin cancer, but included information on their medications.
A researcher from the Aarhus University Hospital, Sigrun Alba Johannesdottir, performed an analysis of all skin cancer patients, sorting the data by use of anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Interestingly enough, researchers found that people with several sorts of conditions such as arthritis, migraines or heart problems were more likely to take anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin.
The data analysis was normalized by matching each case of skin cancer with a control group who had similar risks, looking for differences. Some people were excluded from the study for having various risk factors that could have skewed the data.
The study found nearly 20,000 people with skin cancer in the database for northern Denmark, including squamous cell cancer, basal cell cancer, and melanoma.
The research even found a very slight reduction in the risk of skin cancer if anti-inflammatory drugs had ever been used.
However, the clearest effects were seen with long term and high-intensity use of anti inflammatory drugs, with a 10-20 percent decrease in risk for melanoma and basal cell cancers, especially with multiple drugs at high levels for a long time.
This study is essentially looking at correlations, however, and is not conclusive proof. For example, some people with conditions like arthritis may have a different risk for developing skin cancer and usually take higher levels of anti-inflammatory drugs.
The information is certainly exciting for cancer researchers who have been working on the molecular basis for cancer development. And while these sorts of over-the-counter drugs cannot be used to treat cancer, it is a good starting point for further research.
"We hope that the potential cancer-protective effect of NSAIDs will inspire more research on skin cancer prevention," said Jóhannesdóttir. "Also, this potential cancer-protective effect should be taken into account when discussing benefits and harms of NSAID use."
The study was published online in the journal Cancer on May 29, 2012.
Researchers stated that no conflict of interest existed with the publication of their research.