Cancer: Itchy skin might be an early sign of cancer

Itchy skin can be an indication of certain cancers as well as a reaction to some cancer treatments.

The sensation of irritation or discomfort that makes you want to scratch can occur for different reasons. Sometimes, an itchy skin may be an early sign of cancer or a reaction to certain cancer treatments. Because itchiness is quite common and rarely a cause for alarm, knowing if it’s a sign of cancer may be difficult to tell.

Cancers that cause itchy skin

Itchy skin, or pruritus, is most often due to something else other than cancer. In 2018, a study of 17,000 patients at the Johns Hopkins Health System revealed that those with generalized itching were more likely to have cancer than those who did not. According to the study, the types of cancers that cause itchiness include:

  • Blood related cancers like leukaemia and lymphoma
  • Bile duct cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Skin cancer

The study also found that the type of cancer that makes one’s skin itch differs from one ethnicity to the other. For instance, it emerged that black patients were more likely to have skin cancer and blood-related cancers the cause of itchiness. On the other hand, white patients were ore likely to present with itchy skin when they have liver, lung, digestive tract cancers and cancers of the reproductive tract such as ovarian cancer.

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When to be concerned

Certain cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy could also trigger a reaction that causes itchiness all over the body.

Apart from these cancers, some diseases can also be the reason why your skin itches. Conditions like kidney disease, HIV, diabetes, liver disease or shingles could be the cause as well. Itchy skin could also be the result of eczema, dry skin, insect bites or an allergic reaction.

You should see a doctor if the itch lasts longer than a week and if it’s accompanied by darkish urine, yellowish skin, you scratch to the point of bleeding, or you are unable to sleep at night due to this.

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