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Skin cancer prevention could involve using Celebrex

November 29, 2010|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times

Skin cancer rates are rising in the United States despite the well-known warnings to use sunscreen and avoid excessive sun exposure. There may be another tool to guard against non-melanoma skin cancers, however. A study released Monday shows the painkiller celecoxib -- or Celebrex -- helped prevent skin cancers in patients with precancerous lesions.

Celebrex is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (or NSAID) that is used most often for arthritis pain. Researchers have long pondered its potential effectiveness as a cancer therapy. In the new study, released online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, scientists assigned 240 people with actinic keratosis -- a condition that is often a precursor to skin cancer -- to receive either 200 milligrams, twice daily, of Celebrex or a placebo. The participants were examined for new skin lesions after three, six and nine months of therapy and again two months after the end of therapy. The two groups did not differ in the number of precancerous lesions. But, by the time of the last exam, the participants taking Celebrex had 41% fewer non-melanoma skin cancers compared with the placebo group.

The Food and Drug Administration stopped the study early, however, when reports emerged that NSAIDs might increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The findings "suggest that cyclooxygenase inhibitors may provide an additional benefit to sunscreens in the prevention of non-melanoma skin cancers," said the authors of the study, led by Dr. Craig A. Elmets of the University of Alabama, Birmingham. But they added that any benefits of the medications "must be balanced against the adverse events associated with this class of compounds."

Future studies are needed to determine whether the medication might have a use for preventing non-melanoma skin cancer, as well as other types of cancer, while not boosting cardiovascular risks, said the authors of an editorial accompany the study, Dr. Frank L. Meyskins Jr. and Dr. Christine E. McLaren, both of UC Irvine. Studies should be considered to look at the effects of the drug on cardiovascular risk if the dose was lowered or if a lower dose could be combined with other drugs used to prevent cancer, they wrote.

Related: Skin cancer has become an 'epidemic' in the U.S., researchers say.

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