Popping an aspirin may do more than relieve a sunburn—it could also reduce your risk of developing skin cancer, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer.
Stanford University researchers analyzed some 12 years of data from nearly 60,000 women and found that those who took a dose of aspirin at least twice a week had a 21 percent lower risk of melanoma compared to those who weren't on the medication. The longer they popped the pill, the better their odds of not developing skin cancer.
“There have been previous studies along these lines, but none exactly like this one,” says cancer specialist Desiree Ratner, M.D., director of the comprehensive skin cancer program and dermatologic surgery at Continuum Cancer Centers of New York. “One Dutch study that found that women who took low-dose aspirin continuously were about half as likely to develop melanoma,” she says, “while a U.S. study showed that persistent aspirin use for more than five years was associated with a 56 percent lower risk of melanoma among women.”
What exactly makes the pill cancer-fighting is unclear, Dr. Ratner says. “Aspirin decreases inflammation, and inflammation has been linked to the development of cancer." So the pill may stop cells in the body from growing abnormally.
While this could be great news for people who are already taking low-dose aspirin to prevent heart disease—it thins the blood to lessen the risk of heart attack or stroke—others who aren't on these over-the-counter meds shouldn't start, especially without their doctor's consent.
“Taking aspirin on a regular basis increases your risk of gastrointestinal bleeding,” Dr. Ratner warns. “This study may suggest that this is a preventive measure, however, we don't have enough definitive evidence yet, so people should continue to wear sunscreen and be careful about their sun exposure.”