Is There a Link Between Hidradenitis Suppurativa and Cancer?
Last updated: April 2023
Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a painful, chronic skin disease that causes lumps to form under the skin. The lumps usually show up in places where the skin rubs together. In both men and women, HS lumps are most commonly found in the armpit and groin regions.1,3,4
The condition is not contagious. HS usually starts after puberty and can get worse over time. HS symptoms can be managed with certain medicines and some lifestyle changes, but there is no cure. Researchers are still working to understand the auto-inflammatory disorder and its underlying cause.2,4
Hidradenitis suppurativa comorbidities
Hidradenitis suppurativa frequently coexists with other health conditions. This is called a comorbidity, which is a term that is used to describe a condition or illness that occurs at the same time as another condition or illness. Comorbidities can interact in ways that make both conditions worse.
Some of the common comorbidities of HS include:2,5
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
There is also research showing that HS is associated with cancer, especially a very common type of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).6
Are HS and SCC connected?
Squamous cell carcinoma is considered to be 1 of the more severe complications of HS. Research shows:2,7-9
- Up to 4.6 percent of the HS community also develop SCC
- It is more common to see SCC develop in men with HS than in women with HS
The origin and development of SCC in people with HS remains unclear, but scientists think that the constant inflammation and draining of HS lumps may lead to cellular changes in the skin. Those changes could lead to this type of skin cancer.2,5,10
People living with HS may see a higher risk of cancer
Scientists found the risk of cancer significantly rises in people who have HS.
A 2001 study found cancer risk jumps 50 percent in people living with HS.6,8
Researchers in 2020 followed up on that idea, finding that not only do people with HS have an increased risk of overall cancer, but HS is associated with an increased risk of specific cancers. People living with HS have a higher risk of developing specific cancers, including:6,9
- Lymphomas, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
- Oral cancer
- Nonmelanoma skin cancer, including SCC and basal cell carcinoma
- Prostate cancer
- Colorectal cancer
There is a possibility that cancer and HS development are connected, as overall cancer risk increases when HS becomes more severe.9
What causes the link?
There is no 1 definite answer as to why the diseases are linked and what causes the connection. Researchers think that certain factors could increase the risk of cancer in people with HS, including:9
- Chronic inflammation
- Abnormal immune response
- Environmental stressors
HS is viewed as a chronic inflammatory condition. Researchers know that long-term, persistent inflammation can cause damage, leading to cancer.2,10
To treat HS symptoms, some doctors prescribe a type of drug called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers. Adalimumab (HumiraⓇ) is a TNF blocker. These drugs block the body’s ability to fight infection. These drugs can also have drastic side effects.11,12
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that taking TNF blockers like Humira can increase a person’s chances of getting lymphoma, skin, and other cancers.12
When you need to vent about HS, who do you turn to first?
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