A Higher Risk of Skin Cancer if you Have Crohn’s or UC?

Summer is in full swing and so I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about the risks of skin cancer in patients who have inflammatory bowel disease.

If you ask anyone that spends a decent amount of time with me they’ll tell you that I’m a sunscreen addict. I wear it every day, even during the winter here in the midwest. I must admit that I do this more because I’m afraid of premature aging (yep, I’m nuts!) but I also do it because having Crohn’s disease puts me at a higher risk for getting skin cancer.

Do Crohn's and UC increase the risk of skin cancer?

Yes, they do. You are at a higher risk of getting skin cancer if you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. The good news is that the risk is only slightly higher in people who have IBD compared to the general public, and there are things you can do to protect yourself. The risk does increase a bit more for patients treated with a thiopurine (Imuran and 6MP) or an anti-TNF biologic.

What's the connection between IBD and skin cancer?

  • Both patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are at a slightly higher risk of getting skin cancer compared to the general public.
  • Patients who have Crohn’s disease have a higher risk compared to those with ulcerative colitis.
  • Immunosuppression increases the risk of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.
  • IBD patients treated with Imuran or 6MP were at a greater risk for developing non-melanoma skin cancer and patients treated with anti-TNF biologics were at greater risk for developing melanoma skin cancer.

What are the risk factors for developing skin cancer?

The CDC lists the following as putting you at a higher risk for developing skin cancer:

  • A lighter natural skin color.
  • Family history of skin cancer.
  • A personal history of skin cancer.
  • Exposure to the sun through work and play.
  • A history of sunburns, especially early in life.
  • A history of indoor tanning.
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
  • Blue or green eyes.
  • Blond or red hair.
  • Certain types and a large number of moles.

the writer and her partner outside

I love the sun! However I am at a greater risk for skin cancer due to my blonde hair, blue eyes, freckles, family history of skin cancer, sunburns during childhood, having Crohn’s disease and being immunosuppressed. You better believe I wear my sunscreen!

Tips to prevent skin cancer when you have Crohn's or UC

  • See a dermatologist yearly to check your body for skin cancer. It is important to take note of any new spots or changes in the appearance of existing spots and bring them up to your doctor.
  • The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum UVA and UVB sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for patients who are immune-suppressed.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and immediately after swimming or activity that causes excessive sweating.
  • Do not use tanning beds. Indoor tanning exposes you to both UVA and UVB rays that can damage skin and cause skin cancer.
  • Wear hats, sunglasses, and clothes that cover your arms and legs.

One thing to consider is that the sun is a good source of vitamin D, something that several patients with inflammatory bowel disease are deficient in. Now that you are armed with the above information and will be doing a great job at protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays, you may be lacking more in vitamin D. Make sure you have your GI check your levels and recommend the appropriate treatment. The safest way to get vitamin D is through your diet.

Check in with your doctor about this risk and how to prevent skin cancer

Having IBD increases your risk of getting skin cancer and that risk increases a bit more in patients treated with thiopurines or biologics. With careful monitoring and taking steps to protect yourself from the sun, you should be able to protect yourself. Talk more about IBD and the risk of skin cancer with your GI and make sure you are having your skin checked by a dermatologist.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The InflammatoryBowelDisease.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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