Does Psoriasis Increase My Risk for Cancer?

Medically reviewed by Mohamed Jalloh, PharmD on July 11, 2016Written by James Roland on December 21, 2015

Research shows that genetic abnormalities can increase your risk of developing psoriasis. Psoriasis is a chronic, autoimmune-mediated skin condition that can cause scaling and inflammation.

Researchers have also 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.

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 can put individuals at a higher risk for cancer due to their weakened immune systems. Researchers behind a 2014 study found that biologics are unrelated to higher cancer risks.

Research does suggest that the use of ultraviolet light therapy to help heal psoriasis patches may increase the odds of developing squamous cell carcinoma—especially in patients who have at least 250 ultraviolet light therapy treatments.

The cancer connection

Unlike the well-established connection between smoking and lung cancer, the link between psoriasis and cancer isn’t as 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 study suggests that psoriasis may increase the risk of several cancers, including cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract, liver, respiratory tract, pancreas and urinary tract.

The study also shows that people with psoriasis have a slightly higher risk of developing Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Hodgkin Lymphoma, and leukemia.

In a separate study, researchers noted that cancer rates were higher among people with psoriasis. For example, the rate of lymphoma was 11.1 per 10,000 patient years of observation (PYO). Every year a patient’s health studied counts as one PYO. In the general public, the rate of lymphoma was 6.6 PYO.

Takeaway

Understand that 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 in other ways, you can keep your risk of cancer or other health challenges to a minimum.

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.

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