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Lymphedema associated with greater skin cancer risk

Photo by: Abdullah Sarhan via Wikimedia Commons

New research from the Mayo Clinic suggests patients with lower-limb lymphedema had twice the risk of developing skin cancer than patients without lymphedema.

These findings come from a study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings (Nov. 2023; 98(11):P1653-1659).

The study reviewed data from 4,437 patients who were diagnosed with lower extremity lymphedema at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. from 2000 to 2020. Compared to a matched control group, the group with lymphedema had an increased risk of basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas on their lower limbs. For patients with lymphedema in one leg, that extremity was nearly three times as likely to have skin cancer compared with the other leg.

This study contributes to growing information linking lymphedema to localized changes in immunity and a predisposition for cancer, the authors write.

“Patients with lymphedema are not screened routinely by dermatologists, and inadequate screening may lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment,” says Dr. Afsaneh Alavi, a Mayo Clinic dermatologist and the study's senior author, in a press release. “Our findings suggest the need for a relatively high degree of suspicion of skin cancer at sites with lymphedema. There is a need for raising awareness in clinicians seeing patients with lymphedema, and these patients may need regular skin cancer screenings since early detection of skin cancer is critical.”


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