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A Higher Risk of Skin Cancer if you Have IBD?

Is there a higher risk of getting skin cancer if you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis? So happy you asked! Here is what you need to know about Inflammatory Bowel Disease and skin cancer risk.

What to know about IBD and skin cancer

People who have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis have an increased risk of developing skin cancer compared to the general public. The good news is that it’s only a slight increase in risk and there are actionable steps you can take to protect yourself. 

What is the

  • People who have IBD have an increased risk of both melanoma and non melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) compared to the general public.
  • Immunosuppression increases risk of both melanoma and NMSC types.
  • For people being treated with thiopurines (Imuran or 6MP) the risk of developing NMSC increases compared to people being treated with anti-TNF biologics who are more at risk for developing the melanoma type of skin cancer.
  • Crohn's disease patients have a higher risk of developing skin cancer compared to ulcerative colitis patients.
Picture of me on the beach of lake michigan in 1999

What You Can Do?

  • You should see a dermatologist yearly to have your skin checked for skin cancer. Your doctor may recommend a different interval of time in-between check ups. All you have to do is ask them! 
  • If you notice any spots or discolorations on your skin that are new, changing, won’t heal, itch, or bleed, you should bring it up to your doctor right away.
  • Learn how to check your skin monthly here
  • 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. This is what I use on my face. It’s pricey, I know, but it’s the best I’ve found so far for how makeup applies and looks over it so I thought I’d recommend it in case that is a problem for you as well. For the rest of my body I just use cheap drug store stuff. It is recommended to use 2 tablespoons half an hour before you go out in the sun.
  • You should seek shade, especially between 10AM and 4PM. 
  • Wear sunglasses, broad brimmed hats, and sleeves to protect your skin. 
  • It should go without saying but you should definitely avoid using tanning beds.

Vitamin D and Inflammatory Bowel Disease

It’s important people living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have their vitamin D levels monitored regularly. It’s not uncommon for patients to have low vitamin D levels which are associated with increased risk of clinical relapse and increased disease activity. The sun can be a good source of vitamin D but it’s important to seek safer methods of maintaining your vitamin D level.  The safest way of getting vitamin D is through your diet but you may need to use a supplement. My doctor has one that he prescribes for me but I’ve also seen GI’s recommend an OTC version.

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