Psoriasis and cancer

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that can cause scaling and inflammation. Though its exact cause isn’t known, genetics is thought to play a large part. Psoriasis is often said to be “autoimmune-mediated,” meaning it’s triggered by an abnormal response of the body’s immune system.

Researchers have found that psoriasis may increase your risk of developing certain cancers.

If you have psoriasis, there are steps you can take to manage or reduce risk factors for cancer. Keep reading to learn more about the connection and develop your plan of action.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder. Typically, your immune system works to protect your body from any harmful pathogens. If you have psoriasis, your immune system reacts to a nonexistent danger. In response, a rapid growth of skin cells appears beneath the skin’s surface.

New skin cells are supposed to move to the surface every few weeks to replace any dead skin cells. In people with psoriasis, the new skin cells move to the surface every few days. This can result in thickened patches of dead skin on the surface of your skin.

The cancer connection

Unlike the well-established connection between smoking and lung cancer, the link between psoriasis and cancer isn’t clear. The link appears to revolve around inflammation.

Chronic inflammation can increase the risk of cancer. If you have psoriasis, you experience inflammation of the skin, organs, joints, and blood vessels.

Research has confirmed the increased risk of cancer for people with psoriasis. One research review of 37 studies and articles suggests that psoriasis may increase the risk of several cancers, including cancers of the upper respiratory/digestive tract, liver, respiratory tract, pancreas, and urinary tract. The review also indicates that people with psoriasis have a slightly higher risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and leukemia.

In a separate study, researchers noted that cancer rates were higher among people with psoriasis. The study found that people with psoriasis were more likely to have non-melanoma skin cancers, lymphoma cancers, and cancers of the oral cavity, larynx, pharynx, colon, lung, and kidney.

How do psoriasis treatments impact cancer risk?

Certain psoriasis treatments involve drugs that slow down this skin cell production process. Various drugs used to treat psoriasis suppress the body’s immune system to help reduce symptoms.

Researchers have explored whether biologics, which are medications made from living organisms, can put individuals with weakened immune systems at a higher risk for cancer. A review of eight studies published in the British Journal of Dermatology found biologics to be unrelated to higher cancer risks.

Research suggests that the use of ultraviolet light therapy to help heal psoriasis patches may increase the odds of developing squamous cell carcinoma, especially in those who’ve had at least 250 ultraviolet light therapy treatments.

The takeaway

The increased cancer risks for people with psoriasis are relatively small. Psoriasis is a lifelong condition, but if you make the effort to be healthy, you can minimize your risk of cancer or other health challenges.

You should talk with your healthcare provider regularly about ways to preserve your health. Discuss cancer screenings, particularly those involving skin cancer.

You can also take steps to minimize other behaviors that can raise your risk for cancer. Possible changes may include quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, getting more physical activity, and avoiding too much sun exposure.