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Chronic Bowel Disease Drugs Linked to Skin Cancer Risk

TUESDAY, Nov. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Some patients with inflammatory bowel disease may be at increased risk for skin cancer due to their use of immunosuppressant drugs to treat the intestinal disorder, according to the results of two new studies.

The studies, published in the November issue of the journal Gastroenterology, noted that immunosuppressants are commonly used to treat patients with irritable bowel disease, or IBD. Currently, there are no specific recommendations for skin cancer screening in IBD patients.

In one study, French researchers led by Dr. Laurent Peyrin-Biroulet, of University Hospital of Nancy, found that both past and present use of a widely used class of immunosuppressants called thiopurines significantly increased the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer in irritable bowel disease patients.

"The increased risk of skin cancer that we found in our study was observed in all patients, even before the age of 50 years. As expected, this risk increased with age. All patients with irritable bowel disease currently receiving or having previously received thiopurines should protect their skin from UV radiation and receive regular dermatologic screening, regardless of their age," Peyrin-Biroulet said in a news release from the American Gastroenterological Association.

Non-melanoma skin cancer includes basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which are the most common cancers diagnosed in North America.

In the second study, Canadian researchers found that certain people with inflammatory bowel disease, such as men with a form of the disorder known as Crohn's disease, may already be at increased risk for basal cell carcinoma, and the use of thiopurines increases this risk.

"All individuals should be protecting themselves against skin cancer," lead author Dr. Harminder Singh, of the University of Manitoba, said in the news release. "But, it is especially important that physicians stress the need to be extra vigilant about skin care with their irritable bowel disease patients, especially among those exposed to immunosuppressants such as thiopurines."

However, Singh and his colleagues added that there was only a small absolute increased risk of non-melanoma skin cancer seen in the study, which may not warrant stopping treatment with thiopurines in IBD patients who need the immunosuppressants to control their disease.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about skin cancer prevention.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Gastroenterological Association, news release, Nov. 21, 2011

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