Aspirin is best known as a headache- and painkiller, but a new study suggests it can also guard against melanoma, a dangerous type of skin cancer.
ABC News reported that the study from Stanford University School of Medicine's Cancer Institute found nearly 60,000 post-menopausal women who regularly took aspirin were 21 percent less likely to be diagnosed with melanoma. People who took aspirin more than five times weekly had a 30 percent reduction risk of the skin cancer.
"These findings suggest that aspirin may have a chemopreventive effect against the development of melanoma," principal author Dr. Jean Tang and colleagues wrote in their report published on Monday in the journal Cancer. "Further clinical investigation is warranted."
The study doesn’t explicitly say aspirin was the direct cause to the drop in cancer risk, but stated that there was a decreased risk among Caucasian women in their 50s, 60s and 70s who used it twice a week. The study did not focus on family history of melanoma or hair color, an important control since redheads have a higher risk of getting skin cancer, ABC News wrote.
"This is one of many studies looking at the relationship between aspirin use and melanoma," said ABC News' chief health and medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser. "Some have found an association between taking aspirin and having a lower risk of melanoma and some have not."
Aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, has also been known to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Melanoma isn’t the only cancer the ancient painkiller that dates back to 400 B.C. can help prevent. The drug can help lower the risk of cancers of the colon, breast, esophagus, stomach, prostate, bladder and ovary, NPR noted.
"This study builds on our knowledge of these medications being protective for the skin as well," Dr. Josh Zeichner, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, told ABC News.
But aspirin isn’t exactly the cure for cancer. "We just don't yet know enough to make definite conclusions,” he added.
Though the risk of cancer is lower, there can also be serious side effects from taking too much of the over-the-counter pill.
"The jury is still out," said Besser. "It's so important for people to remember that although you can buy aspirin over the counter, it is a real drug with significant side effects. It can increase your risk of having a stomach ulcer or a gastrointestinal bleed."
"Right now the best way to prevent skin cancer is to use sunscreen, wear protective clothing and avoid of the sun between peak hours," he said.
Tang also stressed to NPR that people shouldn't go taking an aspirin before indoor tanning thinking it will eliminate their chance of cancer.
"The worst thing," Tang said, "would be: 'I can take aspirin, and that justifies me doing indoor tanning.' That is not the right message."