Which Cancers Are Linked to Pruritus?


Pruritus is associated with several cancers, including skin cancers, according to the findings of a recent study.

The cross-sectional study included patients aged 18 years and older who were seen at the Johns Hopkins Health System from 2013 through 2017. The researchers compared patients who presented with pruritus to those who presented without pruritus. In addition, patients with pruritus were stratified by race.

Severity of Pruritus Related to Quality of Life
Tools of the Trade: Managing Atopic Dermatitis Itch in Adults
What Is This Asymmetric Itchy Rash Over This Girl’s Right Axilla and Right Upper Chest?
Compared with patients without pruritus, those with pruritus were more likely to have a concomitant malignancy (odds ratio 5.76, 95% CI 5.53-6.0). Liver, gallbladder, biliary tract, hematopoietic system, and skin cancers were strongly associated with pruritus. In addition, black patients more frequently presented with soft tissue, dermatological, and hematological malignancies and less frequently presented with liver, respiratory, gastrointestinal (GI), and gynecological malignancies compared with white patients.

The study was limited to a single tertiary care center and was not able to account for temporal associations between pruritus and malignancy.   

“Pruritus is most strongly associated with cancers of the liver, skin, and hematopoietic system,” the researchers concluded. “Black patients with pruritus have a higher likelihood of skin, soft tissue, and hematological malignancies than whites, while whites have higher likelihood of liver, respiratory, GI, and gynecological malignancies.”


Larson VA, Tang O, Stander S, Kang S, Kwatra SG. Association between itch and cancer in 16,925 pruritus patients: Experience at a tertiary care center [published online September 11, 2018]. J Am Acad Dermatol. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2018.08.044