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What is the Connection Between Itchy Skin and Cancer?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Itchy skin and cancer can be one of the early warning signs that damage from the sun has invaded healthy skin cells. Non-melanoma skin cancer commonly appears as crusty area of the skin that might itch. Itchy skin and a sore that doesn’t heal or a lump that bleeds could also be a sign of cancer. Bowen’s disease is an early type of skin cancer that appears anywhere on the body but is more common on the legs.

There are two kinds of skin cancer: malignant melanoma and non-malignant melanoma. The connection between itchy skin and cancer in malignant melanomas usually appears in a mole anywhere on the body. The mole might change color and the edges become uneven.

The area around the mole may also become red or crusty, or could bleed. These usually appear on the back, leg, and shoulders. This is considered a serious type of skin cancer that requires early treatment to prevent its spread.

Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers normally grow slowly and appear as a red or pink bump that develops on the face, hands, back, ears, or scalp, where sun has damaged the skin. Cancer of this type is rarely seen in children but childhood sunburn could cause the cancer to appear years later. It is most common in older adults, and twice as many women as men suffer from itchy skin and cancer related to sun exposure.

Some other cancers result in skin discomfort that could affect the entire body or certain areas. Up to one-fourth of people who have Hodgkin’s lymphoma complain of itchy skin and cancer symptoms. The itch might be more severe on the legs and torso; doctors are not sure why this occurs in some patients. Sometimes the itching disappears when cancer treatment begins. At other times, drugs used to cure cancer might cause a rash that itches all over the body or in certain spots.

Health professionals advise the best way to avoid cancer is avoid excessive exposure to the sun, especially between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., when ultraviolet rays peak. Sunblock products and clothing that shields the skin can prevent sunburn that might lead to itchy skin and cancer later in life. The rays from tanning beds might also lead to skin cancer.

Early treatment can cure most cases of skin cancer. Areas of crusty skin can be removed to prevent cancer cells from spreading. Moles are typically excised, along with any surrounding tissue affected. If cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, surgeons typically remove them, and use drugs to kill any remaining cancer cells. When surgery is not an option, chemotherapy and radiation can be employed on the cancer.

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Discussion Comments

By anon936931 — On Mar 03, 2014

There is a commercial currently running to advertise Cancer Centers of America in which a woman states that she had to quit exercising because she developed itching, and that was a symptom indicative of advanced stage breast cancer. However, the advertisement doesn't elaborate on her symptomatic itch, and I have been unable to find information to correlate her claims. No mention was made as to whether her itch was a result of sun-related damage. Anyone know where I can find further info on this issue? Thanks.

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