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Painkillers Prevent Cancer but Up Heart Risk

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs May Help Prevent Oral Cancer but Also Increase Heart Disease Risk

Painkillers Lower Risk of Oral Cancer continued...

Over a 20-year period, 454 of them developed oral cancer; they were compared with 454 smokers who did not develop cancer. Of these 908 people, 277 were long-term NSAID users, meaning they used the medications for at least six months.

The study showed that years of NSAID use were associated with lowered oral cancer risk. Those who took NSAIDs for five years or less had about half the risk for oral cancer compared with nonusers. Those who used them for 15 to 26 years were 70% less likely to develop oral cancer.

At the Heart of the Matter

But the researchers were puzzled because the NSAID users did not live longer. The data were so surprising that "we thought the data were corrupt," Sudbo says.

A closer look revealed the reason why: NSAID users were twice as likely to die from heart-related problems. There were 42 cardiovascular-disease deaths among 263 high-risk, long-term NSAID users and 41 cardiovascular deaths among 562 people who had never taken such drugs.

People who took ibuprofen were at highest risk: They were nearly three times more likely to die of heart disease than non-NSAID users.

Aspirin did not seem to increase the risk of dying from heart disease, but "with only 14 patients taking aspirin the numbers are too small to know if it was a [statistical fluke]," Sudbo says.

The NSAID dose did not seem to make a difference in risk, but this needs future study, he says.

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