Unusual Skin Cancer May Indicate Colon Cancer Syndrome

Armen Hareyan's picture

An unusual form of skin cancer may be a sign of an underlying syndrome that makes people more susceptible to certain other cancers, according to researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

Some people with rare skin tumors known as sebaceous adenomas, sebaceous adenocarcinomas, and keratoacanthomas are also at greater risk for developing colon and endometrial cancer, as part of an inherited condition known as Lynch syndrome. In addition, patients with Lynch syndrome are at risk for developing these skin tumors.

In the past patients with colon cancer and these skin tumors were said to have Muir Torre syndrome but this study has confirmed earlier findings that Muir Torre syndrome is simply a variant of Lynch syndrome.

"Besides a family history, these skin tumors may be a warning sign that a patient may have this hereditary cancer syndrome and may be at greater risk for colon or endometrial cancer," says the study's first author Dr. Christopher D. South, a fellow in the division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at Ohio State.

The findings were published in a recent issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.


Led by Dr. Albert de la Chapelle, co-leader of the molecular biology and cancer genetics program at Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center, researchers retrospectively studied 152 Lynch syndrome patients from 50 different families to determine how many had been diagnosed with skin tumors related to Muir-Torre syndrome.

They found that 14 people - each from different families - also had Muir-Torre syndrome.

"We found that certain types of skin cancer may be warning signs that patients are at risk for developing other types of cancer, too," says South. "In our study, 60 percent of patients with Lynch syndrome presented with their skin tumor first, so potentially, 60 percent of colorectal cancers in this group of patients could have been prevented through high-risk cancer screening and surveillance strategies."

Patients who have the genetic mutation for Lynch syndrome should be monitored closely for early cancer detection, including an annual colonoscopy starting at age 25 and endometrial cancer screenings (using ultrasounds and biopsies) starting at age 30, says South.

Muir-Torre is a genetic syndrome characterized by a combination of sebaceous tumors (tumors of the oil glands in the skin) and one or more internal malignancies, most often colon cancer. This is an unusual skin cancer, unrelated to the typical skin cancers - basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma. The incidence of Muir-Torre syndrome is low.

"Based on our findings, we recommend that patients who develop skin lesions related to Muir-Torre also be screened for Lynch syndrome," South says.