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14-07-2011 | Article

IBD medication linked to skin cancer


Free abstract

MedWire News: A type of medication used to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may be associated with an increased risk for skin cancer, study findings suggest.

The French team who discovered the link says that people who have taken the immune-system medications, known as thiopurines, should be particularly careful to use sunscreen and have their skin checked for suspicious lesions.

Laurent Peyrin-Biroulet (Henri Poincaré University, Nancy, France) and co-workers studied nearly 20,000 patients with IBD, an autoimmune disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract.

The researchers compared the number of cases of skin cancer occurring in the IBD patients over a period of approximately 3 years, with the number occurring during that period? in a random sample of the general French population.

Their study, which is published in the journal Gastroenterology, found that IBD patients who were currently taking or had previously taken thiopurine drugs were significantly more likely to develop non-melanoma skin cancer than were patients not taking these drugs.

Non-melanoma skin cancer is an umbrella term for two different types of cancer: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These are the most common cancers in the world and are primarily caused by exposure to sunlight.

IBD patients who had used thiopurine drugs were between four and six times as likely to develop non-melanoma skin cancer as were people in the general population.

Importantly, however, the risk for skin cancer was not increased in people with IBD who had never taken thiopurine drugs.

Based on their study, Peyrin-Biroulet and colleagues conclude that "ongoing and past exposure to thiopurines significantly increases the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer in patients with IBD, even before an age of 50 years."

They recommend: "These patients should be protected against ultraviolet radiation and receive lifelong dermatologic screening."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Joanna Lyford