People at risk of developing skin cancer could benefit from a drug normally used to treat arthritis, researchers have suggested.
Scientists found that celecoxib, which is marketed in the UK under the brand name Celebrex, was able to significantly reduce the likelihood of pre-cancerous abnormal cells generating non-melanoma skin tumours.
The drug is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory treatment and works by targeting the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase 2 (Cox-2), which is believed to contribute to the development of non-melanoma skin cancers.
Four years ago Celebrex was at the centre of controversy after a study suggested that it may be linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. It belongs to the same drug family as Vioxx, which was withdrawn from use following similar concerns.
US scientists conducting the new study looked at the effect of celecoxib on 240 people who already had actinic keratosis - pre-cancerous skin damage.
The drug did not alter the number of lesions appearing after two months of treatment, but by the end of the trial participants taking celecoxib had significantly fewer non-melanoma skin cancers than those given a placebo pill.
Dr Craig Elmets, from the University of Alabama, wrote in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute: “The findings of this study, which showed that the celecoxib-treated individuals developed fewer non-melanoma skin cancers than placebo-treated individuals, suggest that cyclo-oxygenase inhibitors may provide an additional benefit to sunscreens in the prevention of non-melanoma skin cancers.”