A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine has found that men who use – or have used – Viagra have a significantly greater risk of developing melanoma compared to men who have never used the drug. Since Viagra hit the market 16 years ago, followed by similar erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs Cialis and Levitra, the ED drug market has soared into the billions of dollars. The years have not only taken the sting out of the stigma, they now offer more insight into the risks associated with the drugs.

Viagra, which contains the active ingredient silidenafil, affects the same genetic pathway that allows skin cancer to become more invasive, which led scientists to explore whether men who use the drug were at greater risk for developing skin cancer. Their research involved nearly 32,000 men, about 1,600 of whom reported using Viagra.

Researchers found that men who used Viagra were at an 84 percent greater risk of developing melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – compared to men who never used the drug. Researchers also found that if men had ever used Viagra, they still had twice the risk of developing the disease even after discontinuing use.

Scientists say more research is needed to draw a stronger link between Viagra use and skin cancer, but in the interim it is strongly advised that men – especially older men – protect themselves from getting too much sun and have regular checks by a doctor to look for skin cancer.

Melanoma can be curable if caught early, but if undetected it can rapidly spread throughout the body, making it more difficult to treat. More than 8,000 die from melanoma each year.

Erectile dysfunction “happens to all men” says Dr. Jacob Rajfer, a urologist at UCLA Medical School. Men in their 40s have a 40 percent chance of not getting an erection when they want one and the risk increases 10 percent every decade after 40. This occurs because the smooth muscle within the walls of the blood vessels in the penis start to deteriorate. Rajfer was one of the researchers who identified nitric oxide as the chemical in the body that causes the smooth muscle to react in the form of an erection. Viagra, and other drugs in its class, work by keeping nitric oxide from breaking down too quickly.

Sources:
NPR
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