Common Painkillers May Reduce Risk of Skin Cancer

By Victoria Kim 01/26/15

Roughly two million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every year.

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Common painkillers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) may reduce one’s risk of developing a form of skin cancer, according to a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology in December 2014.

Researchers reviewed and combined the results of nine existing studies, and concluded that the use of these painkillers appear to reduce the risk of squamous cell skin cancer by 15%.

Squamous cell skin cancers are normally caused by sun exposure and usually aren’t dangerous unless they go untreated. The cancers are often easily removed and rarely cause death. About 2.2 million Americans are diagnosed with either squamous cell or basal cell skin cancer each year, and about 20% of these skin cancers are squamous cell, according to the American Cancer Society.

The researchers suspect the painkillers have this effect on skin cancer by disrupting the activity of proteins that contribute to swelling and development of tumors, according to review co-author Catherine Olsen, a senior research officer with QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

The researchers say ibuprofen and naproxen “have potential as part of a skin cancer-prevention strategy,” but they note that these drugs are associated with risks of their own, such as bleeding in the digestive system, and should not be relied on to prevent skin cancer.

“Don’t rely on aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to protect your skin,” said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, who was not involved in the study. Instead, he recommends primary prevention such as using sunscreen and sun-protective clothing.

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