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Cancer and Acne

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on May 15, 2020

Almost everyone has had a pimple -- or a face full of them -- at some point in their life. Known as acne, this skin condition typically starts during your teenage years. But you can get it at any age. It’s usually not a sign of anything serious. But some experts think it might predict your chances of getting certain cancers. In other cases, some think acne may come as a result of cancer.

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian stromal tumors, a rare type of ovarian cancer, usually show up in older women. But young girls can get them, too. Research suggests that sometimes these tumors make extra testosterone, the male sex hormone.

This can lead to something called hyperandrogenism. That’s when you start to show signs of too much testosterone, like acne, as well as male pattern baldness and extra hair on your face and body (something your doctor might call hirsutism).

But the research is mixed. One study shows no connection between acne and ovarian cancer.

Breast Cancer

Having acne could make you more likely to get breast cancer. That’s because hormonal imbalances can lead to severe acne. And studies do show a link between breast cancer and higher levels of hormones like estrogen and testosterone.

Another study suggests that women with skin cancer who got radiotherapy (radiation) treatment for their acne have a higher chance of breast cancer than those who didn't.

Skin Cancer

Researchers followed thousands of women for 20 years. They found that those who had severe acne in their teenage years could be more likely to get melanoma, a form of skin cancer. Both acne and melanoma have ties to the hormone androgen. Melanoma isn’t common, but it's the most serious form of skin cancer. That’s because it’s more likely to spread if it goes untreated.

Another study found a tie between women with both skin cancer and a history of acne. The research said that in order to treat their acne, these women were more likely to:

All of these can make skin cancer more likely.

Prostate Cancer

Some studies show a link between acne and prostate cancer. One ties prostate cancer to Propionibacterium acnes. That's a type of bacteria that plays a part in acne, as well as infections of the bones, joints, mouth, eye, and brain. The study suggests that this bacteria might also be a cause of prostate inflammation. Researchers found a lot of this bacteria in cancerous prostate glands.

However, we need more study to confirm this link.

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

There's not a lot of research on the tie between acne and Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but the research we have is interesting.

One study found that non-Hodgkin's lymphoma seems to curb androgen. Androgen is one of several hormones tied to acne. So the suggestion is that acne would actually make you less likely to get this form of cancer.

We need more research to understand the exact connection.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Acne,” “Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).”

Medical Journal of the Islamic Republic of Iran: “A rare ovarian tumor, leydig stromal cell tumor, presenting with virilization: a case report.”

American Cancer Society: “What is ovarian cancer?” “What is melanoma skin cancer?”

Susan G. Komen Foundation: "The Who, What, Where, When, and Sometimes Why."

Cancer: “Teenage acne and cancer risk in US women: A prospective cohort study.”

PLoS One: “Is acne in adolescence associated with prostate cancer risk? Evidence from a meta-analysis.”

Future Oncology: “Links between Propionibacterium acnes and prostate cancer.”

Breast Cancer Research and Treatment: “Severe acne and risk of breast cancer.”

Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: “Increased breast cancer risk after radiotherapy for acne among women with skin cancer.”

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