Is Lower Extremity Lymphedema a Risk for Skin Cancer?

November 9, 2023
Is Lower Extremity Lymphedema a Risk for Skin Cancer image

The study contributes to growing information linking lymphedema to localized changes in immunity and a predisposition for cancer.

Patients with lymphedema may have twice the risk of developing basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas on the lower extremities than their counterparts without lymphedema, according to a retrospective study published in the November 2023 issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings

The study contributes to growing information linking lymphedema to localized changes in immunity and a predisposition for cancer.

Researchers reviewed data from 4,437 patients who were diagnosed with lower extremity lymphedema at Mayo Clinic in Rochester from 2000 to 2020. Compared with a matched control group, the group with lymphedema had an increased risk of skin cancer, and for patients who had lymphedema in one leg, that extremity was nearly three times as likely to have skin cancer compared with the other leg.

"Patients with lymphedema are not screened routinely by dermatologists, and inadequate screening may lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment," says Afsaneh Alavi, MD, a Mayo Clinic dermatologist and the study's senior author, in a news 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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