The role of PUVA in the treatment of psoriasis. Photobiology issues related to skin cancer incidence

Am J Clin Dermatol. Nov-Dec 2000;1(6):337-48. doi: 10.2165/00128071-200001060-00002.


Photochemotherapy with methoxsalen (8-methoxypsoralen) and long wavelength ultraviolet (UV) radiation (referred to as 'PUVA' for psoralen plus UVA) is commonly used to treat psoriasis and vitiligo. These vastly different diseases respond to the therapy by different mechanisms even though the immediate effects of the therapy--the photomodification of cellular biomolecules--is the same for each. Because psoriasis is not cured by PUVA, patients receive many treatments over their lifetime and have a significantly increased risk for the development of skin cancers (primarily squamous cell carcinomas). In this article the basic aspects of psoralen photobiology are reviewed briefly. Several recent studies describing the incidence of skin cancer in UVA treated psoriasis cohorts are comparatively reviewed. In addition the impact of the analysis of mutations in the tumor suppressor gene, p53, are summarized. An unexpected mutation spectrum (very few PUVA type T-->A transversions and frequent UVB solar signature C-->T transitions) suggest that effects other than direct DNA photoadduct formation may be at play. These analyses suggest that it may be possible to improve the therapeutic efficacy of PUVA by a careful evaluation of the mode of delivery. In this review the science behind PUVA is summarized. In addition, the incidence of skin cancer as a long term consequence of repeated treatments is surveyed. To relate clinical observations to molecular events, the nature of p53 mutations found in skin cancers from psoriasis patients is also analyzed. Finally some suggestions for improving the delivery of PUVA therapy are presented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / chemically induced
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Dermatologic Agents / adverse effects
  • Dermatologic Agents / chemistry
  • Dermatologic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Furocoumarins / adverse effects
  • Furocoumarins / chemistry
  • Furocoumarins / therapeutic use
  • Genes, p53 / drug effects
  • Genes, p53 / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • PUVA Therapy / adverse effects
  • PUVA Therapy / methods*
  • Point Mutation
  • Psoriasis / drug therapy*
  • Skin Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics


  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Furocoumarins