Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers Might Help Prevent Skin Cancer

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Advil or Aleve, might lower your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), one of the most common forms of skin cancer, according to a new study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

Researchers reviewed nine previous studies which also looked at the use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin, to a reduced risk of developing skin cancer. According to the scientists, the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma dropped by 15 percent and could potentially become a part of overall prevention measures for SCC.

SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer with 700,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States. This type of skin cancer rarely metastasizes, however, it can become deadly if left untreated. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 8,800 people died from SCC in 2012. This type of skin cancer develops in the epidermis, or the upper layers of the skin. It often looks like red, scaly patches, warts or elevated growths. It can also appear as an open wound that won't heal or a wound with a crust that bleeds. Treatment for SCC, when it is detected early, is usually successful, however, when left untreated it can become deadly.

Previous studies have looked at NSAIDs and found that they can help prevent other cancers: colon, breast, lung, prostate. Other studies have also shown a correlation between NSAID use and lower rates of SCC. Researchers believe that the NSAID inhibits the action of an enzyme, called COX-2, which is released by skin cells when exposed to UV light. This most recent study was a meta-analysis, which looked at a total of nine previous studies and compared the results of each. The nine studies included information on over 6,000 cases of SCC and over 100,000 cases of people without skin cancer. The data was then statistically analyzed to determine if there was a link between NSAID use and lower rates of SCC. They found a 15 percent reduction in skin cancer rates in those who used NSAIDs.

Before deciding to take NSAIDs on a daily or regular basis, however, you should talk to your doctor. These medications, while considered generally safe, do have side effects. They can cause gastrointestinal problems, such as:

  • Stomach pain

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhea

  • Heartburn

  • Nausea

In addition, more serious side effects can include:

It is important to talk to your doctor and let him know of all medications you are taking, including over-the-counter medications. Your doctor will determine if these medications are safe for you and what an appropriate dose is.

Taking NSAIDs should not stop you from taking steps to prevent skin cancer, including limiting sun exposure between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing and sunglasses.


"Aspirin May Help Prevent Skin Cancer," 2014, Dec, 18, Ben Thomas, DiscoverMagainzine.com

"Over-the-counter Painkillers May Reduce Skin Cancer Risk," 2014, Dec. 18, Randy Dotinga, Healthday, CBS News

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.