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NLM Director’s Comments Transcript
Aspirin Associated with Reduced Melanoma Risk: 04/01/2013

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus.gov

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Here is what's new this week in MedlinePlus.listen

Aspirin use is associated with less risk of the most severe form of skin cancer among some older women, finds a national study recently published in Cancer.  

The research also suggests the longer Caucasian women ages 50-79 take aspirin, the more their risk of melanoma (or the most severe form of skin cancer) declines significantly — compared to peers who do not take the over-the-counter, widely available medication.

The authors explain the study provides the most comprehensive findings to date about the results of aspirin use on melanoma’s development. The authors note they focused on Caucasian women because about 95 percent of melanoma cases occur in women with lighter skin pigmentation.

Specifically, the observational study found the overall risk of melanoma declined 21 percent among postmenopausal, white women, ages 50-79, who regularly took aspirin — compared to aspirin non-users.

The study found women who regularly took aspirin for more than five years comparatively experienced a 30 percent lower melanoma risk. A gradual reduction in melanoma risk also occurred as a participant continued to take aspirin for 12 months after the first year through the fourth.

Interestingly, the reduction in melanoma occurred only among participants who took aspirin. There were no comparative declines in melanoma risk among participants who self-reported taking other over-the-counter, pain relief medications. 

Among other variables, the researchers controlled for skin type, extent of sun exposure, and sun protection habits. In other words, the significant differences in melanoma risk between aspirin and non-aspirin users occurred regardless of a participant’s skin type, the extent of sun exposure, as well as sun protection (mostly sun screen) practices.

Frequent aspirin use was defined as taking the medication twice or more a week. User differences in aspirin dosage or daily use were not assessed.

The study’s findings are based on data from about 60,000 women, who were participants in the more comprehensive Women’s Health Initiative study. All participants were followed for an average of 12 years in the national study, which is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The Women’s Health Initiative began in 1991 and is designed to find new risk indicators and disease biomarkers in postmenopausal women.

The National Cancer Institute adds 9,000 persons die from melanoma annually and there are about 77,000 new cases of melanoma reported each year.

The study’s 10 authors conclude (and we quote): ‘the current results indicate that postmenopausal Caucasian women who used aspirin had a significantly lower risk of melanoma, and increased duration of use was associated with greater protection against melanoma. These findings suggest that aspirin may have a chemopreventive effect against the development of melanoma, and further clinical investigation is warranted’ (end of quote).

The authors emphasize while the study suggests an important association between aspirin use and melanoma risk reduction, it does not demonstrate that taking aspirin prevents melanoma. To establish the latter, the authors note more comprehensive clinical trials are required. The authors explain the current findings also do not explain the underlying biochemical reasons why aspirin is statistically associated with a decline in melanoma risk.

Meanwhile, MedlinePlus.gov’s melanoma health topic page provides comprehensive information about melanoma’s diagnosis/symptoms, treatment, prevention, coping, and management. A succinct overview of melanoma, from the American Academy of Dermatology, is available in the ‘overviews’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s melanoma health topic page.

A description of the available medications to treat melanoma (from the National Cancer Institute) is found within the ‘treatment’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s melanoma health topic page.

MedlinePlus.gov’s melanoma health topic page additionally contains links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the ‘journal articles’ section. Links to related clinical trials that may be occurring in your area are available in the ‘clinical trials’ section. From the melanoma topic page, you can sign up to receive email updates with links to new information as it becomes available on MedlinePlus.

To find MedlinePlus.gov’s melanoma health topic page, just type ‘melanoma’ in the search box at the top of MedlinePlus.gov’s home page. Then, click on ‘melanoma (National Library of Medicine). Additional information about aspirin can be found in the ‘drugs and supplements’ section that is accessible on Medlineplus.gov’s home page.  

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