Certain patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may have an increased risk of skin cancer, which is intensified by the use of immunosuppressant medications , according to two new studies in Gastroenterology, the official journal of the American Gastroenterological Association. Immunosuppressants are commonly used in the treatment of IBD.
In the first study, researchers found that both past and present exposure to thiopurines (a widely used class of immunosuppressants) significantly increased the risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC) in patients with IBD, even before the age of 50. Currently, there are no specific recommendations for screening for skin cancers in individuals with IBD.
“The increased risk of skin cancer that we found in our study was observed in all patients, even before the age of 50 years. As expected, this risk increased with age. All patients with irritable bowel disease currently receiving or having previously received thiopurines should protect their skin from UV radiation and receive regular dermatologic screening, regardless of their age,” said Laurent Peyrin-Biroulet, MD, PhD, of University Hospital of Nancy, Henri Poincaré University, Vandoeuvre-lès-Nancy, France, and lead author of this study.
NMSC mainly encompasses basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which are by far the most common cancers diagnosed in North America. NMSC continues to be the most common cancer diagnosed among individuals on immunosuppressive medications; patients with IBD are increasingly treated with these immunosuppressant medications.
In a second study, researchers concluded that certain individuals with IBD, such as men with Crohn’s disease, may have a baseline increased risk of BCC, and the use of thiopurines increases the risk of SCC.
“All individuals should be protecting themselves against skin cancer,” said Harminder Singh, MD, MPH, FRCPC, of the University of Manitoba and lead author of this study. “But, it is especially important that physicians stress the need to be extra vigilant about skin care with their irritable bowel disease patients, especially among those exposed to immunosuppressants such as thiopurines.”
However, Dr. Singh and his colleagues note that the small absolute increased risk of NMSC may not merit stopping thiopurines for those who need them for their IBD disease control.
For more information on IBD, please read the AGA brochure “Understanding Inflammatory Bowel Disease” at http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/inflammatory-bowel-disease.
About the AGA Institute
The American Gastroenterological Association is the trusted voice of the GI community. Founded in 1897, the AGA has grown to include 17,000 members from around the globe who are involved in all aspects of the science, practice and advancement of gastroenterology. The AGA Institute administers the practice, research and educational programs of the organization. http://www.gastro.org.
Gastroenterology, the official journal of the AGA Institute, is the most prominent scientific journal in the specialty and is in the top 1 percent of indexed medical journals internationally. The journal publishes clinical and basic science studies of all aspects of the digestive system, including the liver and pancreas, as well as nutrition. The journal is abstracted and indexed in Biological Abstracts, Current Awareness in Biological Sciences, Chemical Abstracts, Current Contents, Excerpta Medica, Index Medicus, Nutrition Abstracts and Science Citation Index.
Alissa J. Cruz
American Gastroenterological Association