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Can Having Skin Cancer Provide Protection Against Alzheimer's Disease?

By HERWriter
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can skin cancer protect you from Alzheimer's? Gino DeGraff/PhotoSpin

There is little reason to rejoice, if you have skin cancer. However, a study performed at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York did find that study participants who had been diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer were 80 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

The 1,102 participants in the study were 70 years old or older and were followed for an average of 3.7 years. They were checked annually for symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and skin cancer.

At the start of the study, 109 of the people had been diagnosed with either basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer in their past medical history. None of the participants had signs of dementia.

During the study period, 32 additional people developed non-melanoma skin cancer and 126 people were diagnosed with some form of dementia. Only two of those who had non-melanoma skin cancer developed Alzheimer’s disease.

It is unclear what the link is between non-melanoma skin cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. There seems to be a number of possible factors that could explain the study results.

Study author Dr. Richard Lipton, a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine told Science daily that "One possible explanation could be physical activity."

Lipton went on to say, "Physical activity is known to protect against dementia, and outdoor activity could increase exposure to UV radiation, which increases the risk of skin cancer."

Another possibility is increased vitamin D exposure from being outside since studies have shown vitamin D could offer some protection against Alzheimer’s.

Lipton told Huffingtonpost, "Biologically, the most interesting idea has to do with cell division."

He explained that in Alzheimer’s disease, brain cells die and are not replaced. In cancers, the opposite is true. Cancer cells replicate nonstop. Perhaps the process of excessive cell division in these certain types of skin cancers, is protecting the brain from Alzheimer’s disease.

It is important to remember that these study results show an association, not a cause and effect relationship.

The number of patients who had skin cancer in the group is fairly small, only 141 in total. Any association between melanoma skin cancer and dementia were not explored since very few people in the study developed that form of skin cancer.

More research would need to be done to investigate what mechanism may be offering protection to the brain.

With this in mind, no one should stop using their sunscreen or start spending excessive amounts of time in the sun.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging, Einstein Aging Study, and National Cancer Institute, Albert Einstein Cancer Center and was published in the journal Neurology.


Skin cancer may be linked to lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. ScienceDaily, 15 May 2013. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.

Skin Cancer Tied To A Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s. Time.com. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.

Skin Cancer Linked With Lower Alzheimer's Risk -- But Why? Huffpost. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.


White, Robert S. et al. Nonmelanoma skin cancer is associated with reduced Alzheimer disease risk. Published online before print May 15, 2013, Neurology doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182941990.

Press release:

Skin Cancer Linked to Reduced Risk for Alzheimer's Disease. Albert Einstein College of Medicine | May 15, 2013. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.

Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles

Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment2 Comments


Hi Anon,

Well the study size is pretty small so would need to be repeated for a longer time period and with larger groups to detect a real trend. 

I think the observation about cell division is the most interesting part of this as the researcher identified.

 Alzheimers is when cells die and are not replaced and skin cancer is when cell overly multiply so the question is, does the affect on cell division from the cancer help keep brain cells around longer somehow?

thanks for commenting. 


October 15, 2014 - 3:12pm
EmpowHER Guest

Not sure I buy this. My father had basal cell carcinoma several times. He also had dementia and Parkinson's. I'm not sure that you can rule out dementia with a skin cancer diagnosis, although given that I have a history of skin cancers, and melanoma, I would be delighted if that were truly the case.

October 14, 2014 - 7:56pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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