Is There a Link Between Psoriasis and Cancer?

Psoriasis is a persistent skin disease that is commonly associated with scaly patches of skin or red areas. Although this disease is normally very manageable, it is important to discuss potential conditions that can occur alongside psoriasis—sometimes referred to as comorbidities—with your dermatologist in order to understand the best ways to stay healthy and manage your symptoms.

Research and data shows that psoriasis has several common comorbidities, including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Additional research is now delving into the association of psoriasis with increased risk for cancers, including skin cancer. Some of the latest studies indicate that while individuals with psoriasis are not at a higher risk of dying from cancer, individuals with severe psoriasis have elevated risk for developing some cancers. Dr. Jonathan T. Wolfe of Dermatology Associates of Plymouth Meeting is a leading expert on the latest psoriasis research, and in a recent article for Oncology Watch, discussed new data and important steps for dermatologists and patients.

Understanding Psoriasis and Health Risks

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that leads to inflammation, redness and skin abnormalities ranging from small scaly spots to larger lesions. While there is no cure for psoriasis, lifestyle changes can help minimize flare-ups, and treatments can help manage symptoms and allow patients to retain a high quality of life. Aside from the visible symptoms of psoriasis, there are several ways in which this condition impacts the body, including inflammation and pain. As dermatologists and researchers seek out more information about potential links between psoriasis and certain cancers, they consider these internal and external factors, as well as the impact of psoriasis treatments and lifestyle habits.

Potential Triggers of Psoriasis

Lifestyle changes are commonly recommended to minimize psoriasis flare-ups and promote better health overall. Common triggers of psoriasis include heavy alcohol consumption, smoking and obesity, which are all linked to an increased risk of cancer. Keep in mind that although there are certain triggers of psoriasis, it is also important to focus on how improving overall health can, in turn, improve psoriasis. A focus on overall health, including reducing chronic inflammation and bolstering the immune system, allows your dermatologist to not only address your psoriasis, but also work to minimize your risk for other health conditions such as cancer.

Understanding Psoriasis Treatments

Psoriasis treatments can range from topical creams to phototherapy treatment to medications that support the immune system, and dermatologists carefully consider these treatment options based on the severity of your psoriasis and your overall health. For psoriasis patients who receive treatments that support the immune system—an option used to treat severe plaque psoriasis—some research shows there is a potential for impaired immune surveillance, meaning the body may not recognize tumors or abnormal cell growths that could lead to cancer. Phototherapy, another form of treatment that utilizes carefully measured UVA light to target affected areas of skin, has been shown to increase the risk of skin cancers. Patients receiving phototherapy treatments are encouraged to minimize sun exposure and use sunscreen and protective coverings to decrease the risk of skin cancer caused by increased UV exposure.

What Does This Mean for Me?

It is important to note that further studies of the link between psoriasis and cancer are needed. However, existing research emphasizes the importance of finding a dermatologist who understands all of the factors at play in psoriasis treatment, and the importance of having open conversations about treatment options, lifestyle habits and other risk factors. 

Dermatologists can help patients understand the importance of overall health and minimizing behaviors that can trigger psoriasis flare-ups and increase risk for other conditions, such as cancer. They can also educate patients on how to be vigilant for spotting symptoms that may warrant evaluation. Regular check-ins with your dermatologist or licensed physician assistant, including skin exams on at least an annual basis, can lead to a better understanding of the condition, help in managing the condition and lead to quick assessment of any suspicious lesions. Data does not show an increased mortality rate from skin cancer in psoriasis patients, which indicates early detection and treatment can be just as effective in this group as in individuals without psoriasis.

Schedule your appointment at Dermatology Associates of Plymouth Meeting for more information on psoriasis treatment options.