Chemoprevention of squamous cell carcinoma in recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa: results of a phase 1 trial of systemic isotretinoin

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004 Apr;50(4):563-71. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2003.08.008.


Background: Patients with recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB) are at high risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma on or after midadolescence, and most patients die of metastatic squamous cell carcinoma within 5 years of diagnosis of their first squamous cell carcinoma.

Objective: We sought to determine whether isotretinoin can be safely administered to patients with RDEB as a possible chemopreventive agent.

Methods: A total of 20 patients with RDEB aged 15 years or older were treated daily for 8 months with isotretinoin (with a targeted dosage of 0.5 mg/kg/d).

Results: No unusual adverse reactions were noted in this patient population. Several patients experienced reduced blistering at lower doses and increased mechanical fragility at maintenance dosage.

Conclusions: Isotretinoin, at least up to a dosage of 0.5 mg/kg/d, may be safely used in patients with RDEB. Although increased fragility may occur, patients tolerated this drug well and were receptive to its long-term use for possible chemoprevention of cancer. Whether such an effect will occur is yet to be proven.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Clinical Trial, Phase I
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / prevention & control*
  • Dermatologic Agents / adverse effects
  • Dermatologic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Epidermolysis Bullosa Dystrophica / complications*
  • Epidermolysis Bullosa Dystrophica / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isotretinoin / adverse effects
  • Isotretinoin / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control*


  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Isotretinoin