Jan. 5, 2009 -- There is mounting evidence that nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help prevent or slow the growth of
non-melanoma skin cancers.
In a study published today, the Cox-2 arthritis drug Celebrex was found to
reduce the growth of basal cell skin cancers by 50% in some patients with a
rare genetic condition that makes them highly susceptible to the tumors.
And in a separate study reported last May, people who took Celebrex daily
for nine months had 60% fewer non-melanoma skin cancers than people who did not
take the drug.
Celebrex and other Cox-2 inhibitors act on the cyclooxygenase-2 enzyme
involved in inflammation.
Stanford University assistant professor of dermatology Jean Y. Tang, MD,
PhD, says the findings suggest a role for the cyclooxygenase enzyme in the
development of basal cell carcinoma and possibly other non-melanoma skin
"Basal cell carcinomas are the most common cancer in the United States," she
says. "Even though these tumors are not lethal they can have a big impact on
quality of life, and we have no way to treat them short of surgical
Even if Celebrex does slow skin cancer growth, it is probably not an
appropriate preventive treatment for most people, Tang says.
"We certainly aren't recommending that people take this drug to reduce their
risk for basal cell carcinomas," she says.
That is because of concerns about an increase in heart attack and stroke
risk associated with the use of Cox-2 drugs. The Cox-2 drug Vioxx was withdrawn
from the market by its manufacturer, Merck, in 2004 after studies linked its
long-term use to an increase in deaths due to heart attack, stroke, and
other cardiovascular events.
The study conducted by Tang, along with Ervin H. Epstein, Jr. of the
Children's Hospital Oakland, was begun in 2001, before the cardiovascular risks
were publicly reported.
The study included 60 patients with a very rare genetic condition known as
Gorlin syndrome. Gorlin's patients can develop hundreds and even thousands of
basal cell carcinomas over the course of their lives.
The study participants were treated with a standard therapeutic dose of
Celebrex (200 milligrams, twice a day) or a placebo. Neither the patients nor
the investigators knew which treatment was being given.