Purchases of over-the-counter pain and indigestion medications could be used to predict ovarian cancer months before diagnosis, according to a study published in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance.

Researchers found that women with ovarian cancer were more likely than their cancer-free peers to purchase pain and indigestion medications in the months before diagnosis. 

The researchers used data from loyalty cards to track differences in purchasing trends for over-the-counter pain and indigestion medications among women in the United Kingdom who were and were not diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The researchers evaluated purchase history data for 153 cancer patients and 306 control individuals. 

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Purchases of pain and indigestion medications were greater for the cancer patients in the 6 months, 12 months, and 24 months before diagnosis. 

There was a significant association between the purchases of both medications and ovarian cancer in the 6 months before diagnosis (odds ratio [OR], 1.05; 95% CI, 1.01-1.10). Maximum discrimination between the cancer patients and control individuals was seen at 8 months before diagnosis (OR, 2.91; 95% CI, 2.07-4.12).

The purchase of pain medication alone was associated with a significantly increased likelihood of ovarian cancer 19 months before diagnosis (OR 1.18, 95% CI, 1.05-1.32). The purchase of indigestion medication alone was associated with a significantly increased likelihood of ovarian cancer 9 months before diagnosis (OR, 1.38; 95% CI 1.04-1.83).

The researchers noted that this study had limitations. One limitation is that purchasing an item is not the same as using that item, and the majority of participants reported living with other people. In addition, the study was limited to recording those purchases where the loyalty card was used. Finally, the study did not meet the intended recruitment for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Further studies with larger numbers of ovarian cancer patients, diagnosed at different stages, and more participating retailers are needed to verify these findings, which can lead to the future development of an alert system for individuals to seek medical attention for the symptoms they are experiencing sooner than they might otherwise,” the researchers wrote. 

Disclosures: One study author declared affiliations with biotech, pharmaceutical, and/or device companies. Please see the original reference for a full list of disclosures.


Brewer HR, Hirst Y, Chadeau-Hyam M, et al. Association between purchase of over-the-counter medications and ovarian cancer diagnosis in the Cancer Loyalty Card Study (CLOCS): Observational case-control study. JMIR Public Health Surveill. Published online January 26, 2023; doi:10.2196/41762