Epidermolysis bullosa and the risk of life-threatening cancers: the National EB Registry experience, 1986-2006

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2009 Feb;60(2):203-11. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2008.09.035. Epub 2008 Nov 20.


Background: Case series have demonstrated that potentially lethal cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas arise in patients with recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB), although the magnitude of this risk is undefined.

Methods: Systematic case finding and data collection were performed throughout the continental United States (1986-2002) by the National EB Registry on 3280 EB patients to determine cumulative and conditional risks for squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), basal cell carcinoma (BCC), and malignant melanoma (MM) within each major EB subtype, as well as the cumulative risk of death from each tumor. Study design was cross-sectional, with a nested randomly sampled longitudinal subcohort (N = 450).

Results: SCCs arose primarily in RDEB, especially the Hallopeau-Siemens subtype (RDEB-HS), first beginning in adolescence. Less frequently, SCCs occurred in junctional EB (JEB). Cumulative risks rose steeply in RDEB-HS, from 7.5% by age 20 to 67.8%, 80.2%, and 90.1% by ages 35, 45, and 55, respectively. In Herlitz JEB, the risk was 18.2% by age 25. SCC deaths occurred only in RDEB, with cumulative risks in RDEB-HS of 38.7%, 70.0%, and 78.7% by ages 35, 45, and 55, respectively. MM arose in RDEB-HS, with a cumulative risk of 2.5% by age 12. BCCs arose almost exclusively in the most severe EB simplex subtype (Dowling-Meara) (cumulative risk = 43.6% by age 55).

Limitations: Mutational analyses were performed on only a minority of enrollees in the National EB Registry, preventing evaluation of the possible influence of specific genotypes on the risk of developing or dying from cutaneous SCCs.

Conclusions: SCC is the most serious complication of EB within adults, especially those with RDEB-HS. By mid-adulthood, nearly all will have had at least one SCC, and nearly 80% will have died of metastatic SCC despite aggressive surgical resection. When compared with SCCs arising within the normal population, the remarkably high risk of occurrence of and then death from SCCs among RDEB patients suggests likely differences in pathogenesis. Additional studies of EB-derived tumors and SCC cell lines may not only provide new insights into the mechanisms of carcinogenesis but also means whereby these particular tumors may be prevented or more effectively treated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Epidermolysis Bullosa / mortality*
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / mortality
  • Middle Aged
  • Registries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / mortality*
  • United States / epidemiology