Viagra Linked to Increased Risk of Melanoma Skin CancerJune 10, 2014 — The erectile-dysfunction drug Viagra (sildenafil) has been linked to an 84% increased risk of melanoma (skin cancer).

Conclusions were based on data from nearly 26,000 men enrolled at the Health Professional’s Follow-Up Study at the Harvard School of Public Health. Results of the study were published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study began in 2000, when researchers interviewed men to learn about this history of sun exposure, genetic skin cancer risk, and other risk-factors. Then, they tracked the incidence of melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma until 2010.

During the study, researchers identified 142 cases of melanoma, 580 cases of squamous cell carcinoma, and 3,030 cases of basal cell carcinoma. They found that men on Viagra were about twice as likely to develop melanoma, but there was no increased risk of the other types of skin cancer.

Erectile dysfunction is not a risk-factor for melanoma and researchers are still unsure how Viagra could possibly cause skin cancer. Even so, the correlation is concerning.

The underlying mechanism of melanoma is complex. However, recent studies have shown that many human melanomas occur on a pathway that is regulated through a protein called BRAF. This protein inhibits the same protein-coding enzyme (PDE5A) that Viagra inhibits, which enhances the ability of melanoma cells to invade and metastasize. Conversely, increasing PDE5A decreases the invasive behavior of melanoma cells.

According to the researchers:

“Recent studies have shown that BRAF activation down-regulates PDE5A levels, and low PDE5A expression by BRAF activation or sildenafil use increases the invasiveness of melanoma cells, which raises the possible adverse effect of sildenafil use on melanoma risk.”

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