Evaluation of cancer risk related to atopic dermatitis and use of topical calcineurin inhibitors

Br J Dermatol. 2011 Sep;165(3):465-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2011.10363.x. Epub 2011 Jun 30.


Cases of lymphoma or cutaneous cancer have been observed following use of topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs), but it is unclear whether TCI use increases cancer risk. We used published literature to assess the extent to which atopic dermatitis (AD) or TCI use is associated with lymphoma, melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. We searched the literature and summarized the results of all studies that provided data on the absolute or relative frequency of any malignancy among patients with AD or eczema or among patients using TCIs. The relative risk for all lymphoma in broad populations of AD or eczema ranged from 0·7 to 1·8. Available data on lymphoma following TCI use were inconsistent and insufficient to draw a conclusion about the causal role of TCIs. We found no evidence indicating that melanoma or nonmelanoma skin cancer is associated with TCI use. A bias analysis showed that cutaneous T-cell lymphomas initially misdiagnosed and treated as AD would lead to overestimation of the association between TCI use and lymphoma. However, there are only sparse data on specific malignancies among TCI-treated patients. The short duration of typical TCI exposure hinders conclusions about longer exposure. There is insufficient evidence in the epidemiological literature to infer whether TCIs do or do not cause malignancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Calcineurin Inhibitors*
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / chemically induced
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / chemically induced
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / drug therapy*
  • Dermatologic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Dermatologic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Lymphoma / chemically induced*
  • Melanoma / chemically induced
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Tacrolimus / administration & dosage
  • Tacrolimus / adverse effects
  • Tacrolimus / analogs & derivatives


  • Calcineurin Inhibitors
  • Dermatologic Agents
  • pimecrolimus
  • Tacrolimus