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Commonly used painkiller medications may act as partial shields against skin cancer, according to new research from Denmark.

The study found that people who routinely took non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs known as NSAIDs – which include Aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen – were less likely to develop some forms of skin cancer than those who seldom used these medications.

For the study, the researchers examined the medical records of more than 18,000 Danes who were diagnosed with skin cancer between 1991 and 2009. Their case histories – including their medication use – were compared to a control group of non-cancer patients.

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The analysis, published in the journal Cancer, showed that NSAIDs were associated with a 15 per cent reduction in squamous cell carcinoma, and a 13 per cent drop in melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer.

The anti-cancer properties of NSAIDs likely stem from their ability to dampen the activity of so-called COX enzymes, which play a role in inflammation, speculated the lead researcher, Sigrun Alba Johannesdottir of Aarhus University Hospital.

"Previous studies show that elevated levels of these enzymes are found in skin cancer and that they are involved in important steps of cancer development," she said in an e-mail. "Therefore, inhibition of these enzymes may protect against skin cancer development."

Even so, popping NSAIDs regularly isn't the best way to safeguard your skin because these medications can potentially cause serious side effects. Aspirin, for instance, can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding.

But Ms. Johannesdottir hopes the study might provide fresh insights into the development of skin cancer and how it might be prevented.

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