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Erectile Dysfunction Medication Linked to Melanoma (VIAGRA and MORE)

Many older men suffer from a condition known as erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence. This medical condition, where the penis fails to become erect or is unable to maintain an erection during sexual activity can be caused by a variety of physical conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes or even side effects from medication that is taken for high blood pressure or other medical conditions. Some medical conditions that can be related to erectile dysfunction include the following:

  • Heart disease
  • Atherosclerosis (clogged blood vessels)
  • High Cholesterol
  • Hypertension or High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Sleep Disorders
  • PTSD, Depression, Anxiety, or other mental health conditions
  • Prostate Cancer and other prostate conditions
  • Surgeries or traumas in the pelvic or spinal cord areas

How is Erectile Dysfunction Treated?

In many cases, erectile dysfunction is treated with medication. There are different types of medication that treat erectile dysfunction, including phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitor drugs, otherwise known as PDE5 inhibitor drugs, like sildenafil, tadalafil, vardenafil and avanafil.

The brand names of these erectile dysfunction drugs are widely recognized Viagra, Cialis and Levitra. Viagra was approved for the treatment of erectile dysfunction by the United States Food and Drug Administration or FDA in 1998 and is manufactured by Pfizer. The “little blue pill” generates more than an estimated $2 billion in revenue for Pfizer each year. Cialis is manufactured by Lilly and has been prescribed to over 45 million men since it began being sold in Europe in 2002 and the United States in 2003. Levitra was comarketed by Bayer Pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline and Schering-Plough in 2003 for use in the United States to treat erectile dysfunction.

As with any medication, there is always the potential for side effects. The following list includes some of the most common Viagra side effects that users may experience:

  • Flushing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Back pain
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Indigestion

Rarely, drugs like Viagra can cause serious side effects. If you experience the following serious effects, stop taking the drugs and contact your healthcare provider immediately.

  • A sudden loss of vision or hearing
  • An erection that’s painful and lasts more than four hours
  • Chest pain after taking ed drugs at the onset of sexual activity

Excessive alcohol consumption in conjunction with taking ed drugs can significantly increase the risk of experiencing any of the side effects listed above. It is always recommended that you discuss medication with a healthcare provider.

Is There a Connection Between Ed Drugs and Cancer?

During the last several years, doctors have questioned whether erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra and Cialis expose patients to an increased risk of skin cancers like malignant melanoma and basal cell carcinoma.

In 2000, a study questioned male patients about their use of sildenafil and risk factors for developing melanoma as part of the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study. A questionnaire that accompanied the study asked patients about their sexual health, use of Viagra, history of sun exposure and other things like hair color, family history of skin cancer, history of moles and number of severe sunburns. This study did not find the use of ed drugs to be a factor associated with an increased risk of melanoma.

In 2014, Dr. Wen-Qing Li of Brown University discovered that patients who were prescribed and took sildenafil, the active ingredient in both Cialis and Viagra, had an 84% higher risk of developing or accelerating melanoma over a period of ten years This study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association also known as JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014. The study hypothesized one theory for the correlation between ed drugs and melanoma was the way the drugs work as a pde5 inhibitor to suppress a naturally occurring enzyme in the body. This process actually mimics a mutation that is commonly seen in melanoma in the RAS/MAPK signaling pathway that is responsible for the growth and division of cells throughout the body.

While this study by Dr. Li did not prove that Viagra or other sildenafil-containing drugs caused cancer, it indicated that sildenafil use resulted in the development of melanoma skin cancer in people who used the ed drugs more often than those who did not use the drug.

In a recent study from 2019, researchers at the University of Kentucky partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ performed a retrospective review of data over a 19-year period of time. The study identified and analyzed patients who received phosphodiesterase type treatment for erectile dysfunction to determine whether they had received treatment for or diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma or melanoma. The study also included veterans who had never received treatment for erectile dysfunction. The study was made up of over 2.5 million veterans. The results of the study indicated an increased risk of two different types of skin cancer, both malignant melanoma and basal cell carcinoma. Again, this study did not show a causal connection between the use of Viagra and melanoma. Researchers have even speculated that there is more sun exposure for men who are taking medications like Cialis and Viagra.

What is Melanoma?

According to the American Cancer Society, there are about 100,350 cases of melanoma diagnosed this year in the United States. Annually, about 6,850 people die each year from melanoma. It is the most common type of skin cancer in the United States and typically affects the head, face, neck, hands and arms of a person’s body. Often, melanoma is diagnosed by a doctor of dermatology. There are three major subgroups of skin cancer including basal cell cancer, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Melanoma is deadly skin cancer, affecting the cells in the skin that are responsible for making pigments.

Melanoma is characterized by changes in the size, shape feel or color of a mole. The acronym ABCDE was developed to help patients remember what to look for when inspecting moles on their bodies. Patients are instructed to look for asymmetry of a mole, inspect the border of a mole, examine the color of a mole, determine if there have been changes in the diameter of a mole, and look to see if a mole is evolving or changing in any way.

The sooner melanoma is treated, the better the odds of recovery from this potentially life-threatening cancer. Typical treatment options typically include surgery, immunotherapy, targeted therapy medication, chemotherapy and radiation. Treatment varies based on the stage of cancer and the medical advice you receive from your doctor of oncology.