Scientists might have discovered link between common skin disease and cancer

Quick notes

  • Psoriasis is a common skin disease that causes quick regeneration of skin cells

  • An analysis of nearly 60 scientific studies shows a connection between psoriasis and cancer

  • Psoriasis isn’t curable, but you can moderate your symptoms with lifestyle changes

Almost everyone has been impacted by cancer. Whether you have been diagnosed yourself or watched a family member or friend suffer, cancer isn’t an exclusive terrorizer. On top of the physical suffering, it seems as though we’re being told something different about cancer causes every day: genetics, diet, and lifestyle choices have all been shown to play a role in the development of cancer. And researchers might have just discovered another possible link.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes a fast buildup of skin cells. The skin cells of a psoriasis sufferer will regenerate much more quickly than necessary, causing a buildup of dead skin cells that can become itchy, red, and/or painful. While there is no cure for psoriasis, it often moves in cycles, getting better sometimes and causing flare-ups at others.

No one knows exactly why some people develop psoriasis, though at least part of the cause may be genetic. It also might be caused by an abnormal or misbehaving autoimmune system.

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There are a number of different types of psoriasis and many levels of severity: sufferers might just have a couple of flaky patches of skin, but other people with psoriasis might develop painful and swollen joints. If you suspect that you or a loved one might have psoriasis (especially if it is preventing you from routine living), talk to a doctor. They might be able to help you moderate and treat your psoriasis. They may also be able to advise you about risk factors that can be adjusted with the goal of eliminating symptoms.

Psoriasis and cancer

In a research study published in JAMA Dermatology, scientists compiled information from nearly 60 different independent studies to make the claim that psoriasis is tied to an increased risk of developing cancer. In their assessment, researchers determined that people with mild to moderate psoriasis were at an 18% increased risk of developing cancer, while people with severe psoriasis had a 22% increased risk. The risk of dying from cancer was increased in all psoriasis sufferers.

Psoriasis is tied to an increased risk of developing cancer

The studies especially connected psoriasis to liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, and upper respiratory tract cancers. There also seems to be a link between psoriasis and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and leukemia.

While the exact connection between psoriasis and cancer is still unclear, researchers have a couple of theories. There is a confirmed correlation between inflammation and cancer. Since psoriasis may be caused by inflammation, this could be the link between the two diseases. Other researchers suspect that the cause is deeper: severe psoriasis sufferers tend to make other life choices that are linked to increased cancer risks, such as smoking and limited exercise. It could be that these choices, unaccounted for in the studies, are the true causes of the increased cancer risks.

What should you do if you have psoriasis?

There is no cure for psoriasis, but there are ways that you can limit flare-ups and potentially decrease your risk of getting cancer. Psoriasis is associated with smoking, extreme stress, and dry skin, so doing what you can to monitor and reduce the existence of those risk factors in your life might make your psoriasis less uncomfortable and reduce your risk of developing cancer.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

There may be an easier way to take care of your inflammatory diseases soon, thanks to scientific research. 

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