Pain and itch may be signs of skin cancer

July 23, 2014

Asking patients if a suspicious skin lesion is painful or itchy may help doctors decide whether the spot is likely to be cancerous, according to a new study headed by Gil Yosipovitch, MD, Chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Temple University School of Medicine.

The study, published online by JAMA Dermatology on July 23, 2014, found that nearly 36. 9 percent of lesions are accompanied by itching, while 28.2 percent involve . Non-melanoma skin cancers—specifically, and squamous cell carcinoma—are more likely than melanoma to involve itch or pain, the study found.

"The study highlights the importance of a simple bedside evaluation for the presence and intensity of pain or itch as an easily implementable tool for clinicians in evaluating suspicious skin lesions," concluded the study.

Dr. Yosipovitch, Director of the Temple Itch Center, said the findings are important because skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed in two million people annually in this country.

"Patients sometimes have multiple lesions that are suspicious looking, and those that are itchy or painful should raise high concerns for non-melanoma skin cancers," Dr. Yosipovitch said.

The study involved 268 patients who had 339 laboratory-confirmed skin cancer lesions at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center from July 2010 to March 2011.

After undergoing a skin biopsy, the patients were asked to complete a numerical ranking scale to quantify the intensity of itch and pain associated with their skin lesion. The scale, called a visual analog scale, or VAS, went from zero (no sensation) to 10 (the most intense sensation imaginable).

When the researchers compared the patients' responses to their biopsy results, they found that:

  • The prevalence of itch was greatest in squamous cell carcinoma (46.6 percent), followed by basal cell carcinoma (31.9 percent) and melanoma (14.8 percent).
  • Pain prevalence was greatest in (42.5 percent), followed by basal cell carcinoma (19.9 percent) and melanoma (3.7 percent).
  • Pain and itch often went hand in hand: 45.6 percent of lesions associated with itch also had pain; and 60 percent of painful lesions also involved itch.
  • The most painful lesions tended to be those with the greatest depth (except for melanoma lesions, which did not correlate with pain). Pain and itch was also associated with lesions that were larger in diameter. Cancers that were ulcerated (sores or open wounds) tended to be associated with pain but not with itch.
  • Pain and/or itch were more likely to be present when the laboratory analysis of the skin lesion sample suggested a marked or moderate degree of inflammation as compared to mild or no inflammation.

Dr. Yosipovitch said he hopes the study findings will prompt dermatologists to incorporate the use of a ranking scale for pain and when evaluating patients with suspicious skin lesions.

This could increase the detection of lesions that are cancerous," he said.

Related Stories

Body location plays part in scratching pleasure

January 27, 2012

An itch is just an itch. Or is it? New research from Gil Yosipovitch, M.D., Ph.D., professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and a world-renowned itch expert, shows that how good scratching an itch feels ...

Study looks at effect of emotions on pain and itch intensity

March 16, 2012

(HealthDay) -- Emotions influence the experience of somatosensory sensations of both pain and itch, with negative emotions eliciting higher levels of itch and pain compared to positive emotions, according to research published ...

New medication shows promise in treating common skin disease

July 9, 2014

An investigational medication shows promise in treating the most common skin disorder, often referred to as eczema or atopic dermatitis, according to a study published July 9 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings ...

Recommended for you

Strange circular DNA may offer new way to detect cancers

July 30, 2015

Strange rings of DNA that exist outside chromosomes are distinct to the cell types that mistakenly produced them, researchers have discovered. The finding raises the tantalizing possibility that the rings could be used as ...

New treatment options for a fatal leukemia

July 27, 2015

In industrialized countries like in Europe, acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most common form of cancer in children. An international research consortium lead by pediatric oncologists from the Universities of Zurich and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.