Sexual Health Q&A
Pills for erectile dysfunction (ED) most likely do not cause melanoma (a form of skin cancer), research suggests.
Previously, experts thought there might be a connection between sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, and melanoma. However, further research found that there is not a causal relationship.
One study, published in June 2015 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), included data from over 20,000 Swedish men. A team of American and European scientists considered three types of ED drugs: sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), and tadalafil (Cialis).
They found that men with melanoma filled more prescriptions for ED drugs than men without melanoma. But this did not necessarily mean the drugs caused the illness.
For example, higher melanoma rates were found in men who filled just one prescription. Rates for men filling two or more prescriptions were lower. The scientists reasoned that if the drugs caused melanoma, rates would increase with the number of prescriptions.
Also, ED drugs were associated with early stages of melanoma, but not later stages.
Why were men who filled prescriptions at higher risk?
The answer might be found in the men’s lifestyle. ED drugs are expensive. In this study, the men who took ED drugs were generally better educated and had higher incomes than the men who didn’t. If they could afford to purchase the medications, it’s possible that they were more likely to afford more leisure activities in the sun.
Another report, published in 2017 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, analyzed five studies on the potential relationship between oral ED drugs and melanoma. Overall, the studies included 866,049 men, 41,874 of whom developed melanoma.
While the results did show increased risk of 11% for melanoma among men who took the drugs, the researchers didn’t think ED drugs were the cause for two reasons:
• The ED drug users were at higher risk for early stage melanoma, not advanced disease.
• Melanoma risk was higher in men who took small amounts of ED drugs. The scientists found no significant increase in men who took larger amounts.
The researchers suggested that lifestyle habits should be considered. Men who used the ED drugs may have been more health conscious and more likely to keep routine doctor’s appointments. Thus, they would be more likely to be screened for melanoma.
To lower one’s risk for melanoma, or any form of skin cancer, it’s important to take care when out in the sun:
• Stay in the shade, especially during midday when the sun’s rays are strongest.
• Keep your skin covered and wear a hat and sunglasses.
• Sunscreens with an SPF over 15 can also help, but they should be reapplied frequently.
It’s also important to see a doctor if one notices a mole or any other unusual growth or blemish on the skin.