One question that tends to come up for people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis—and the doctors who study these diseases—is whether having psoriatic disease increases your risk for cancer.
It’s an ongoing topic of research in the field, and scientists continue to gather more data on incidence rates and risk factors. Two recent studies, one on psoriasis and the other on psoriatic arthritis, add to our knowledge of the risk associated with certain types of cancer.
Based off the results of these studies, people with psoriatic disease may be at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, melanoma and hematologic cancers, which are types of blood cancers that include leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
Psoriasis and cancer risk
Dr. Jashin Wu, a dermatologist from Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles and a member of the National Psoriasis Foundation’s medical board, recently conducted a study assessing the risk of melanoma and hematologic cancers in people with psoriasis. He also looked at the risk associated with different treatments like phototherapy and systemic therapy.
The study found that people with psoriasis had about a 50 percent greater risk of developing melanoma and hematologic cancers compared to people without psoriasis, but there were no significant differences in cancer risk among psoriasis patients treated with topicals, phototherapy, systemic drugs or biologic agents.
Wu believes that the reason for the heightened risk in people with psoriasis could be due to inflammation.
“Systemic inflammation may lower the immune system response, which could potentially worsen or promote tumor progression,” Wu explained. “If you have psoriasis, then the immune system may be focused more on attacking the skin than attacking new cancer cells.”
Many psoriasis treatments work to reduce inflammation in the body, so it was not surprising to researchers to discover that treating psoriasis did not contribute to the heightened risk of melanoma or hematologic cancers. In fact, Wu believes that treating your psoriasis could possibly help lower your risk of developing malignancies.
“By controlling the inflammation, then maybe the immune system could go back to the normal function of tumor surveillance and attacking early tumor cells,” Wu said.
According to the American Cancer Society’s website, the general population’s lifetime risk of melanoma is 2.5 percent or less and the lifetime risk of three major types of hematologic cancer is 2 percent or less.
Psoriatic Arthritis and Cancer Risk
A recent study conducted by rheumatologist Dr. Eric Matteson from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. focused on cancer risk in patients with psoriatic arthritis. His study investigated multiple cancer types.
Matteson studied a group of 217 patients with psoriatic arthritis that included adult residents of Olmsted County in Minnesota first diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis between January 1970 and December 2008. He used a comparison group of 434 people from Olmsted County without psoriatic arthritis.
He found that the overall incidence of cancer was higher in patients with psoriatic arthritis compared to the general population. When excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, the risk of cancer was increased in the psoriatic arthritis cohort by 64 percent.
“When we looked at individual types of cancer, the one that stood out was breast cancer in women,” Matteson said. “Breast cancer in women was three times more likely to occur in women with psoriatic arthritis than women without psoriatic arthritis.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, about 12.4 percent of women in the general population will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point during their lifetime.
What can you do to control your risk of cancer?
If you are concerned about your cancer risk, keep in mind that the overall risk of cancer is still low and that you can take steps to reduce risk factors. Talk to your doctor about your cancer risk and what steps you can take to help prevent cancer.
Wu recommends having age-appropriate cancer screenings done by your primary care doctor. Although your risk of cancer may be higher, this does not mean you need to get a full CT scan every year, he said.
In addition, our Patient Navigation Center offers information resources, emotional support and tips for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease.
Driving discovery, creating community
For more than 50 years, we’ve been driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. But there’s still plenty to do! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funds to support research by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or create your own fundraising event. If you or someone you love needs free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease, contact our Patient Navigation Center. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today. Together, we will find a cure.