How Is Cancer Linked To Psoriasis?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2016.

Cancer is the name for a set of conditions that are caused when certain cells in a person’s body start to grow and multiply in one area, then spread into surrounding areas. In a healthy body, new cells grow when and where they are needed to take the place of old cells that die. Cancer disrupts this cycle, causing damaged cells to survive instead of dying and new cells to form that are not needed, which are called tumors1.

How is cancer linked to plaque psoriasis?

Studies suggest that patients with inflammatory conditions, including psoriasis, have a slightly higher risk of developing certain types of cancers. For example, patients with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis have a greater chance of developing lymphoma and non-melanoma skin cancers2.

Researchers are still working to understand why this happens, but a theory is that it may be related to the effect of chronic, long-term inflammation has on the body3. Also, drugs called immuno-suppressants (such as cyclosporine and methotrexate) that are used to treat people with more severe psoriasis have been linked to a slightly higher risk of developing certain cancers in people with or without psoriasis4. However, the results of a recent study suggest that it is actually psoriasis itself that causes a slightly higher risk, not the psoriasis treatments5.

Patients with psoriasis should receive regular cancer screenings from a healthcare provider to check for any signs and symptoms of cancer because early treatment is very important and often effective6.

What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is the term for a related group of cancers that affect the blood. The two most common forms of lymphoma are7:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma, sometimes called Hodgkin’s disease
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Lymphoma cancers begin in the body’s lymph system, which is a part of the larger immune system. The lymph system is spread throughout the body, which means that cancer can begin anywhere and then spread to other tissues or organs8.

Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) is different from other types of lymphoma because the cancer cells are very large. These cells can multiply, which leaves too little room for the white blood cells that work to fight off infections. Some of the symptoms of HL include9:

  • Unexplained fever
  • Heavy sweating, especially at night
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Cough or shortness of breath during normal activities
  • Itchy skin
  • Enlarged spleen

HL is one of the most treatable types of cancers. Typical treatments might include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or stem cell transplant.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is also a name for a set of cancers. B-cell type NHL is the most common; the other types are T-cell type or NK-cell type. Common symptoms of NHL include7:

  • Unexplained fever
  • Heavy sweating, especially at night
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Swelling (without pain) in the lymph nodes of the neck, underarm, groin, or stomach
  • Skin itch or rash
  • Pain in the chest, stomach, or bones

Depending on the type of NHL they have, many patients with NHL can be treated effectively by keeping the disease from growing and progressing, or by curing it entirely.

Treatments may include8:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy that keep the lymphoma cells from growing
  • Biologic therapies that strengthen the immune system

What is non-melanoma skin cancer?

Non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) refers to two types of cancers10:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma 

Basal cells are skin cells located in the lower levels of the skin, and most skin cancers (80%) develop from basal cells. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is usually found on the head or neck, and is often caused by too much exposure to the sun. BCC is a slow growing cancer. The most common symptoms of BCC are:

  • An open sore with bleeding, oozing or crusting that lasts for weeks
  • A reddish, raised, or irritated patch that does not hurt but may be crusty or itchy
  • A shiny pink, red, white, or see-through bump
  • A pink growth with a raised border that is crusty in the middle
  • A scar-like, white, yellow, or waxy area

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) makes up around 20% of skin cancers. Squamous cells are located in the skin and cancers that develop from these cells are usually caused by exposure to the sun, but can also be caused by burns, chemical burns, or exposure to x-rays. SCC can also be found on the lips, mouth, anus, or vagina. Symptoms of SCC include10:

  • A growth that looks like a wart, which may crust or bleed
  • A scaly red patch that bleeds easily
  • An open sore that lasts a long time
  • A raised growth with a rough surface

Treatment is similar for both types of non-melanoma skin cancers and is often very effective. It usually involves a surgical procedure to remove the tumor and the area of tissue around it. Depending on the size of the tumor, the surgery can be minor and performed outside of a hospital setting.

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