Common Painkillers may Lower Prostate Cancer Risk in Men

by VR Sreeraman on Sep 8 2008 3:21 PM

Common painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen have shown some promise to lower prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, the blood biomarker to detect prostate cancer risk in men, in a new American study.

"We showed that men who regularly took certain medications like aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS, had a lower serum PSA level," said first author Eric A. Singer, M.D., M.A., a urology resident at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The scientists, however, insist that men shouldn't go for these painkillers in order to avert prostate cancer as yet.

"But there's not enough data to say that men who took the medications were less likely to get prostate cancer. This was a limited study, and we do not know how many of those men actually got prostate cancer," Dr. Singer said.

For the study, the researchers examined the records of 1319 men, who crossed the age of 40 and took part in the 2001-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

They also took into account the men's use of NSAIDs such as aspirin and ibuprofen, as well as the painkiller acetaminophen, and at their PSA levels.

The team found that men who used NSAIDs regularly had about 10 percent lower PSA levels than those who did not.

The same was observed in case of acetaminophen, but as the number of men taking the medication was lower, the result was not statistically significant.

Though one can easily assume that a lowered PSA level automatically implies a lowered risk of prostate cancer, the authors stress that it's too soon to draw that conclusion.

"While our results are consistent with other research that indicates that certain painkillers may reduce a man's risk of getting prostate cancer, the new findings are preliminary and don't prove a link," said corresponding author Edwin van Wijngaarden, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine.

Singer said that it was possible that a man's PSA level could be elevated for reasons unrelated to cancer.

At times, inflammation is part of a cancer process, sometimes it is not, and this it is possible that a lowered PSA reflects reduced inflammation without affecting a man's risk of prostate cancer.

One more possibility can be that a PSA level lowered by NSAIDs might artificially mask a man's risk of getting prostate cancer. The medications might lower the PSA, but a man's risk might stay precisely the same.

"More than anything, these findings underscore the importance for doctors to know what medications their patients are on," said Singer.

He added: "For instance, there are medications commonly used to treat an enlarged prostate that can result in a decreased PSA, and most physicians know that. Doctors should also be asking about patients' use of NSAIDs such as aspirin and ibuprofen.

The study appears online in the latest issue of journal Cancer.