Vitiligo? Lower Risk of Skin Cancer!

Melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer risk was three times lower in vitiligo patients

January 2, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) The common skin condition where splotches of lighter skin spread unpredictably over the body may be frustrating. But on the bright side, it lowers the risk of skin cancer threefold.

A recent study assessed skin cancer risk in 1,307 patients with the common skin condition vitiligo. The study results showed the risk of skin cancer, both melanoma and non-melanoma, was three times less in people with vitiligo.

"Changes in skin pigment? Call a doctor!"

Rosalie Luiten, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology and the Netherlands Institute for Pigment Disorders at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, worked with a team of researchers to determine the risk of melanoma in patients with vitiligo.

Vitiligo is a common skin condition where the immune system kills the cells that create brown skin pigment, also known as melanocytes. Vitiligo is topical and not fatal, but can spread all over the body with splotches of lighter skin taking over the darker skin.

Melanoma is the toughest form of skin cancer to treat. It starts on the skin’s surface, in the form of melanocytes, where it can be easily removed.

But once the melanocytes spread to the deeper tissue and invade the lymph node system, the prognosis is generally fatal.

Phototherapy, where ultraviolet light is administered to the vitiligo affected area, is a form of treatment, but also a risk factor for melanoma.

Considering vitiligo happens when melanocytes die and melanoma happens when melanocytes turn cancerous and spread, researchers wanted to know if the risk of melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancers were different in patients with vitiligo.

For the study, 1,307 vitiligo patients who visited a clinic for pigment disorders between 1995-2010 and were at least 50 years of age at the time of the study were surveyed. Each of the participating vitiligo patients’ partners were asked to fill out the same survey to act as the control group.

Survey questions asked about vitiligo treatments, including phototherapy, and characteristics, skin cancer risk factors and number of skin cancer incidences (if any).

Results of the study showed that people with vitiligo had 3 times less of a chance than the controls of developing melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer.

Even vitiligo patients who had been treated with ultraviolet phototherapy did not have increased odds of melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer.

Authors concluded, “Our findings suggest that patients with vitiligo have a decreased risk of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.”

This study was published in December in the British Journal of Dermatology. Funding was supported by a grant from the Dutch Cancer Society. No conflicts of interest were reported.

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Review Date: 
December 30, 2012
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013