Some IBD Drugs May Raise Skin Cancer Risk
Study Shows Increased Risk for Patients Taking Immune-Suppressing Medications
WebMD News Archive
Oct. 26, 2009 -- Patients with inflammatory bowel disease or IBD may be at
an increased risk for getting skin cancer, according to a study presented at
the American College of Gastroenterology's annual meeting in San Diego.
The risk appears to be linked to medications to control IBD, says researcher
Millie Long, MD, MPH, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
And some medications boost risk more than others, she found.
''Patients on immunosuppressant medications, particularly of the thiopurine
class, have an increased risk of skin cancer, greater than three times,
compared to patients with IBD who do not use these medications," Long tells
WebMD. Purinethol and Imuran are examples of thiopurines.
While previous research by others has also found an increased risk of skin
cancer in IBD patients, Long says her study is thought to be one of the first
to zero in on specific medications.
For the study, Long and her colleagues first looked at the records of 26,403
IBD patients with Crohn's disease and 26,974 with ulcerative colitis,
evaluating their records from 1996 through 2005. Each of the patients was
matched according to age, sex, and region of the country with records from
three patients who did not have IBD.
IBD is used to refer to both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. While
different parts of the gastrointestinal tract are usually affected, both
diseases involve chronic inflammation, resulting in symptoms such as diarrhea,
rectal bleeding, and abdominal cramps. (IBD is different than IBS or irritable
bowel syndrome, which does not involve intestinal inflammation or damage.)
The cause of IBD isn't known, but experts say it is related to the immune
system responding to the body inappropriately.
Overall, Long found that the risk of getting a nonmelanoma skin cancer was
1.6 times higher for the IBD patients than patients in the comparison
Nonmelanoma skin cancers include squamous cell and basal cell skin cancers.
About 1 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed annually with these cancers,
which are extremely curable if detected early.
IBD Patients Only
Long's team took a closer look at just the IBD patients in the study and the
specific medicines they took. Several types of medications are used to treat
IBD, with a goal of decreasing excess activity of the immune system. Long
compared 742 IBD patients with skin cancer to 2,968 IBD patients without skin