The Link Between Melanoma and Viagra

Recent research studies have suggested that there is a link between taking the popular erectile dysfunction pill Viagra, manufactured by Pfizer, and the deadly skin cancer melanoma. Articles about this research have stressed that there is no evidence that taking Viagra causes melanoma – just that there is a connection.

The Research Path From Viagra to Melanoma

The possibility that there is a link between Viagra and melanoma was first suggested by laboratory studies that showed a component of the drug to be similar to a process that allows melanoma cells to spread to other parts of the body. When skin cancer cells spread, the cancer is hard to control and is often quickly fatal.

Once the theoretical link between melanoma and Viagra had been made, researchers wanted to explore whether the drug might act similarly in humans. To find out, they examined data from men participating in the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study, a Harvard University project that began in 1986. The participants complete a health and lifestyle questionnaire every two years and the epidemiological data from the completed questionnaires allow researchers to test hypotheses about medical issues that would not be possible with short-term studies.

Erectile dysfunction was included in the questionnaire for the first time in 2000. When they completed the questionnaire that year, 1,618 men reported that they had used Viagra, while 29,929 said they had never used the drug.

These men were followed for the next decade, and the results were released in a 2014 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Of those men who said that they had never used Viagra, 128 developed melanoma. Fourteen of the 1,618 Viagra users developed melanoma. When stated as rates, 4.3 of every 1,000 men who did not take Viagra developed this type of skin cancer, while 8.6 men who did take the drug eventually were diagnosed with melanoma.

The Link Exists, But No One Knows Why — Yet

The increase from 4.3 to 8.6 is 84 percent. News reports ran with this number, saying that men who took Viagra had an 84 percent greater risk of developing melanoma. What the study cannot show is why this link exists. There is apparently no link between erectile dysfunction itself and melanoma. Is there a link because men who take Viagra are more likely to be older and thus have an increased chance of developing melanoma? Are men who take Viagra more likely to spend time outdoors, increasing their risk of developing melanoma? Is there some other behavioral or genetic factor that is not yet knows? Researchers have said that additional study is needed to discover the exact nature of the relationship between the drug and the deadly skin cancer.

Pfizer Does Not Warn About Melanoma On Its Viagra Label

Since releasing the drug in 1998, Pfizer has had to add warnings about possible side effects to the label. These known side effects include vision loss, hearing problems, and exacerbation of lung, liver kidney, vascular and heart problems. Pfizer does not include any warning about melanoma on its label, even though it is clear that there is some type of link.

Men who have developed melanoma after taking Viagra may wish to speak with a product liability attorney who handles defective drug cases. And men who have taken Viagra and have no signs of melanoma should be checked regularly by a dermatologist to catch any cancer early while it may still be treatable.

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