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Study Links Erectile Dysfunction Drugs With Increased Risk Of Malignant Melanoma

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A new study shows a possible link between popular erectile dysfunction drugs and an increased risk of developing a deadly form of skin cancer.

As CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez reported, malignant melanoma is lethal if it's not caught at a very early stage.

Cases of the cancer are increasing at the greatest rate in men over 50 years old. The very group most likely to be using erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra.

"The people who were taking Viagra were at increased risk for melanoma type skin cancer compared to those who were not," said Dr. Allan Halpern, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

The disturbing link comes from a large study in JAMA Internal Medicine that followed nearly 26,000 men who had used Viagra at least once since the study began in 2000.

It found that those men had about an 84 percent greater risk of developing melanoma than men who had not used Viagra.

"If it really translated into real life, it might amount to as much as one extra melanoma for every 1,000 men per year. That's a significant number," Dr. Halpern said.

What makes this link biologically plausible is that cancer researchers have shown that melanoma growth is promoted by a biochemical pathway that is also affected by Viagra, Dr. Gomez reported.

In fact, in the lab, Viagra can actually make melanoma more aggressive, but the drug does not seem to affect other types of skin cancer.

Dr. Halpern, chief of the dermatology service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, agreed with the study authors that the preliminary findings should not yet change the prescription of Viagra, rather, "it may mean that doctors who prescribing Viagra can take the opportunity to check their patients skin and at a minimum ask the question whether they noticed any new or changing dark spots on their skin."

The study only looked at and asked about Viagra because at the time the study began that was the only approved erectile dysfunction drug.

Dr. Halpern, however, said that other erectile dysfunction drugs, such as Cialis and Levitra, work on the same biochemistry and may pose an even greater risk for melanoma because they are longer lasting in the body than Viagra.

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