Cancers of Sweat Glands and Other Skin Appendages on the Rise


According to data gathered from 16 cancer registries across the US, tumors of skin appendages, including cancer of the sweat glands, hair follicles and sebaceous glands, are increasing. Researchers from the US National Cancer Institute write in the recent report, published in the June issue of the Archives of Dermatology, cutaneous appendageal carcinomas remain rare, but present doctors with a “diagnostic challenge”.

The rate of all skin appendage cancers has increased 150% since 1978, according to the data collected in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program for the period between 1978 and 2005. Men were more likely than women to develop one of the cancers, with an incidence rate of 5.1 cases per 1 million people annually or about 300 new cases per year.

Non-Hispanic whites had higher rates of the cancers than other ethnic groups, including Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asian-Pacific Islanders. Incidence rates increased with age with those 80 and older having a 100-fold greater risk than those between the ages of 20 and 29.


The most common type of cutaneous appendageal carcinomas was cancer of the sweat gland, more formally known as apocrine-eccrine carcinoma. These tumors account for 51% of cases. Sebaceous carcinomas, cancer of the eyelid glands, occurred in 35% of cases, but increased the most over the time period – 217%. Facial lesions accounted for almost half of all the cancers (48.6%), followed by the extremities (19%), trunk (17.4%), and scalp/neck (14%).

The etiology of these types of cancers is unknown. Factors such as ultraviolet light and immunosuppression related to infection, medication or rheumatologic or other inflammatory diseases may play a role in the increase of the cancers.

Thankfully, the study found that five year survival rates for localized disease were 99%. This is likely due to the improved recognition and classification of the disease. For those whose tumors had spread to other parts of the body, survival rate was 43%.

Source references:
Blake P, et al "Cutaneous appendageal carcinoma incidence and survival patterns in the United States: a population-based study" Arch Dermatol 2010; 146: 625-32.
Blake PW, et al "Cutaneous appendageal carcinoma incidence in the United States: A population-based study" ICD 2009; Abstract P253.