Did you know this version of Internet Explorer is out of date?

To get the latest experience from our website, please upgrade your browser.

Have a drug or medical device concern?

call

Viagra and Melanoma

A A

The latest reported side effect linked to Viagra is an increased risk for melanoma. Men who take the little blue pill for any of its recommended uses have legal rights if they develop this deadly skin cancer.

A recent medical study links sildenafil, best known by its brand name, Viagra, to an increased risk of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. According to study results published by JAMA Internal Medicine, Viagra may have nearly doubled melanoma risk in an estimated 45 million men who opted to take the drug since it hit the market in 1998. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and melanoma is the deadliest form of the disease. According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, melanoma is usually, but not always, a cancer of the skin that begins in melanocytes, which are pigment-producing cells in the skin that synthesize melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Melanocytes are the cells responsible for the formation of moles, within which melanoma often develops. Rarely, melanoma can develop in mucus membranes or eyes, rather than the skin. Doctors – and even non-doctors – can detect melanoma with the naked eye as it develops. This makes the cancer easier to detect than almost every other cancer in an early stage. When it is caught and treated early, approximately 99 percent of cases can be cured. Left untreated, melanoma can metastasize, or spread, throughout the body, most commonly to the liver, lungs, brain and bones. Once the disease has spread  becoming metastatic melanoma, treatment is difficult and the prognosis is typically very poor. According to figures from the Melanoma Research Foundation, an estimated 77,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2014, and the disease will cause nearly 10,000 deaths, with one person dying of melanoma every hour of every day. It is one of the fastest growing cancers in the U.S. and around the world, and while it affects people of all ages, melanoma is most common in men over the age of 50.

Skin Cancer from Viagra Use

In an effort to explore a possible connection between PDE5 inhibitors – a class of drugs that includes Viagra – and melanoma, a team of researchers, led by Qing Li, Ph.D., of the Harvard Medical School-Brigham and Women’s Hospital, analyzed data collected by the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which began in 1986 and includes data on over 51,000 male health professionals who were between the ages of 40 and 75 when the study began. Beginning in 2000, the bi-annual surveys taken by study participants included questions about erectile dysfunction and the only drug on the market at that time to treat the condition: Viagra. Questions about risk factors for melanoma were also included in these surveys, collecting information about prior history, moles, hair color and history of sunburn and sun exposure. The final report, published in the June, 2014 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine, is based in survey responses from 25,848 men with an average age of 64 years. Of those 25,848 men, 6.3 percent reported use of Viagra and 5.8 acknowledged recent use of the drug. During the study period, 142 malignant melanomas were diagnosed. Recent use of Viagra, after controlling for confounding factors, was associated with an 84 percent increase in melanoma risk, nearly double the risk of study participants who reported no use of the drug. No link was found to less lethal forms of skin cancer, such as basal and squamous cell skin cancers. In a commentary published in the same edition of JAMA Internal Medicine, editor and Northwestern University dermatologist June Robinson, M.D., explains that an association between Viagra and other PDE5 inhibitors and melanoma is biologically plausible, since the drug affects the same cell-signaling pathways that are at work as melanoma metastasizes. Researchers note that it is important to realize that this study does not prove that Viagra causes melanoma – it shows correlation, not causation. However, given the large increase in melanoma risk portrayed in study results, study authors state that more research into the connection between Viagra and melanoma must be done.