Increased risk for nonmelanoma skin cancers in patients who receive thiopurines for inflammatory bowel disease

Gastroenterology. 2011 Nov;141(5):1621-28.e1-5. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2011.06.050. Epub 2011 Jun 25.


Background & aims: Patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) who have been exposed to thiopurines might have an increased risk of skin cancer. We assessed this risk among patients in France.

Methods: We performed a prospective observational cohort study of 19,486 patients with IBD, enrolled from May 2004 to June 2005, who were followed up until December 31, 2007. The incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC) in the general population, used for reference, was determined from the French Network of Cancer Registries.

Results: Before the age of 50 years, the crude incidence rates of NMSC among patients currently receiving or who previously received thiopurines were 0.66/1000 and 0.38/1000 patient-years, respectively; these values were 2.59/1000 and 1.96/1000 patient-years for the age group of 50 to 65 years and 4.04/1000 and 5.70/1000 patient-years for patients older than 65 years. Among patients who had never received thiopurines, the incidence of NMSC was zero before the age of 50 years, 0.60/1000 for the ages of 50 to 65 years, and 0.84/1000 for those older than 65 years. A multivariate Cox regression model stratified by propensity score quintiles showed that ongoing thiopurine treatment (hazard ratio [HR], 5.9; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.1-16.4; P = .0006) and past thiopurine exposure (HR, 3.9; 95% CI, 1.3-12.1; P = .02) were risk factors for NMSC. They also identified age per 1-year increase as a risk factor for NMSC (HR, 1.08; 95% CI, 1.05-1.11; P < .0001).

Conclusions: Ongoing and past exposure to thiopurines significantly increases the risk of NMSC in patients with IBD, even before the age of 50 years. These patients should be protected against UV radiation and receive lifelong dermatologic screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / epidemiology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / epidemiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • France
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Incidence
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / complications*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Purines / adverse effects
  • Purines / therapeutic use*
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Sunscreening Agents / therapeutic use
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Purines
  • Sunscreening Agents