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Voltaren Gel for Actinic Keratosis?

Can you use Voltaren Gel for actinic keratosis? Some dermatologists recommend topical diclofenac for these precancerous lesions.

The FDA was slow to approve topical NSAIDs like diclofenac (Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel) for pain and inflammation. People in Canada, Australia, Italy and England have been using this drug for years without a prescription. Americans were restricted to oral NSAIDs (Advil, Aleve, etc) which have lots of serious side effects. Read about them at this link. What has been overlooked in all the discussions about topical diclofenac for arthritis is that there is some evidence this NSAID might have another use. Some readers have considered using Voltaren Gel for actinic keratosis.

What Is Actinic Keratosis?

Do you have a scaly patch of skin on your face, scalp or neck that won’t go away? What about a rough, dry spot on your hands or arms? Is it crusty and itchy? Does it sometimes bleed without a lot of trauma to the spot? Such symptoms could be an indication of a precancerous skin lesion called actinic keratosis. Such growths are almost always a result of long-term sun exposure.

Dermatologists can freeze the lesions (cryotherapy). Another option involves laser surgery. Topical chemotherapy with medications like topical 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), ingenol gel (Picato), imiquimod cream (Aldara, Zyclara) or topical tirbanibulin (Klisyri).

Could Voltaren Gel Help Banish Actinic Keratoses?

Q. I’ve had several slightly annoying skin changes on my face and ears. My doctor says they are pre-cancerous lesions from sun exposure and shrugs his shoulders.
As I see it, “pre-cancerous lesions” could become cancer. So, when I found an article about diclofenac as an anti-cancer agent, I started applying Voltaren Gel to my actinic keratoses. Some are clearing up.

A. Thank you for providing the link to the article in eCancerMedicalScience (Jan. 11, 2016).  Dermatologists consider topical diclofenac less effective against actinic keratoses than some of their more potent treatments, such as freezing, lasers, 5-fluorouracil or photodynamic therapy (Archives of Dermatological Research, July 2023).  On the other hand, Voltaren Gel is available without a prescription. Be sure to have your annoying spots examined by a dermatologist before you start treating them yourself.

Why Would a Dermatologist Recommend Voltaren Gel for Actinic Keratosis?

Q. What can you tell me about Voltaren Gel? I know that people can now buy this pain reliever without a prescription for joint pain. My dermatologist says it can also treat precancerous actinic keratosis that results from too much sun exposure. Why don’t people know about this?

A. Topical diclofenac (Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel) was approved for over-the-counter use a year ago. The FDA considers it appropriate for relieving osteoarthritis pain in joints like knees and hands (but not for spine, hips or shoulders).

We were intrigued by your dermatologist’s statement about using Voltaren Gel for actinic keratosis. A German study found that three months of treatment with diclofenac and hyaluronic acid (Solaraze) normalized metabolism and improved immune response (Frontiers in Oncology, July 3, 2019). However, the study treatment contained 3 percent diclofenac rather than the 1 percent available in OTC Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel.

Solaraze is a prescription-strength diclofenac gel containing 3% diclofenac. That makes it three times stronger than OTC Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel. It has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of actinic keratosis.

Although this product is stronger than Voltaren Gel for actinic keratosis, it is not a magic bullet. Clinical trials suggest an effectiveness rate of roughly 30-47 percent after two to three months of treatment.

Castor Oil for Actinic Keratosis:

Readers of our syndicated newspaper column often share home remedies. One that has come up a couple of times is topical castor oil vs. actinic keratosis. Here is a link to an article you may find intriguing. A woman shares a story about her husband’s actinic keratosis. His dermatologist actually recommended castor oil. This reader used a mixture of castor oil and baking soda for actinic keratosis. However, we have found no research documenting the effectiveness of castor oil applied topically to actinic keratoses.

Voltaren Gel for Arthritis?

To learn more about the pros and cons of topical diclofenac for treating inflammation, you may wish to read our eGuide to Alternatives for Arthritis.

Please share your own experience with actinic keratosis in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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Citations
  • Pantziarka P et al, "Repurposing Drugs in Oncology (ReDO)—diclofenac as an anti-cancer agent." eCancerMedicalScience, Jan. 11, 2016. doi: 10.3332/ecancer.2016.610
  • Worley B et al, "Treatment of actinic keratosis: a systematic review." Archives of Dermatological Research, July 2023. DOI: 10.1007/s00403-022-02490-5
  • Singer K et al, "Topical diclofenac reprograms metabolism and immune cell infiltration in actinic keratosis." Frontiers in Oncology, July 3, 2019. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2019.00605
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