During the summer of 2013 I was diagnosed with melanoma. This was something that I NEVER thought would happen to me. I’ve always been a “moley” person, aka I have a lot of moles on my back, so I made it a priority to go to the dermatologist to have her look at them each year.
When I started on biologics in the Winter of 2013, I scheduled a check up with each of my doctors. When you’re on immunosuppressants, you want to make sure you’re keeping up with your whole-body-health as you never know what can go wrong. Until then, I’d had moles biopsied, but nothing ever came back as being harmful. But that summer, I received a Melanoma in Situ diagnosis. I was extremely lucky - it was only in the first layer of my skin, so all I had to do was have the site removed with no additional treatment required.
After my scare with skin cancer, I wanted to learn more about the increased risks that my autoimmune condition now predisposed me to. As psoriatic disease patients, we should always be striving to learn as much as we can about our conditions. Learning about cancer risk increases is a major factor we should look into.** Is there an increased risk between psoriasis and skin cancer?**
There are many different factors that go into a person’s risk for cancer. Their genetics, environment, lifestyle, pH levels, diet, medications, toxins they're exposed to, and stress levels. When you have psoriasis, or psoriatic arthritis, you’re often treated with DMARDS and other medications which lower the strength of your immune system. This suppressed system can make it difficult for your body to fight off pathogens.
Many researchers attribute increased cancer risks to biologics, which can come with warnings of increased chances for lymphoma and other types of cancers. But according to this National Psoriasis Foundation article, a study was presented at the American Academy of Dermatology meeting stating that although there were more instances of cancer in patients over a 5 year period, biologic drugs weren’t necessarily the driver.
“Researchers found that rates of diagnosis, analyzed according to different treatments, were fairly even for all cancers except nonmelanoma skin cancer, but varied slightly for nonmelanoma skin cancer and lymphoma. Treatments analyzed included biologics, nonbiologics and phototherapy. Kimball described the data as 'pretty reassuring,' noting that no one single treatment had a significantly higher rate of cancer.” (Source: NPF blog, Cancer rates rise with psoriasis; biologics have little effect)
So if the treatments used for psoriasis aren’t causing a huge increase in cancer risk, does the actual condition of psoriasis pose a risk for patients?
A study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, examined whether there was an increased risk of cancer in psoriasis patients relative to the general population. The study showed that there may be some increased risk for solid cancers, including respiratory tract cancer, upper aerodigestive tract cancer, urinary tract cancer and liver cancer. They also identified that psoriasis patients do have a slightly increased risk of developing non-hodgkin lymphoma. But when it came to looking at melanoma, there was no increased risk assessed.
However, they did notice that psoriasis patients have an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. In all, this study concluded that there is a small increased risk for some solid cancers, which they explicitly could draw to those linked with consuming alcohol and smoking cigarettes. And when it came to skin cancer, there was a higher risk of non-melanoma skin cancers, but they deemed the cause “mainly due to previous exposure to 8-methoxypsoralen-ultraviolet-A (PUVA), ciclosporin and possibly methotrexate.” (Source: Risk of cancer in psoriasis: a systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology).
What you can do about it
Having a compromised immune system can make your system vulnerable to pathogens and cancers that it may have been able to fight off before. Therefore, as an autoimmune patient, it’s imperative that you take extra precautions when it comes to your health. Here are a few things you can do to help support your body’s systems and lower your risk of cancer.
Make it a priority to have routine appointments with all your health providers. Schedule those yearly check ups and lab tests.
Decrease your exposure to UV light. If phototherapy is part of your treatment plan, make sure your doctor monitors your progress and routinely examines you.
Cut down your exposure to environmental toxins like arsenic and pesticides.
Stop smoking! Smoking is hazardous to your health and bombards your system with thousands of unneeded toxins
Add supplements into your daily regimen that help supply you with the nutrients and minerals your body needs to thrive.
Create a regular exercise routine to help keep your heart healthy, your blood circulating and your body moving.
Eat a healthy, whole foods diet. When you’re giving your body the fuel it needs - proper nutrients, good fats, organic fruits and vegetables - your system will be better equipped to off foreign invaders
Pouplard, C., Brenaut, E., Horreau, C., Barnetche, T., Misery, L., Richard, M.-A., Aractingi, S., Aubin, F., Cribier, B., Joly, P., Jullien, D., Le Maître, M., Ortonne, J.-P. and Paul, C. (2013), Risk of cancer in psoriasis: a systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 27: 36–46. doi: 10.1111/jdv.12165
Cancer rates rise with psoriasis; biologics have little effect| 05/06/15 | Melissa Leavitt