Risk of Hematologic Cancer in Patients With Undifferentiated Pruritus

JAMA Dermatol. 2022 May 25;e221562. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2022.1562. Online ahead of print.


Importance: Although pruritus is common in patients with hematologic cancers, it is unknown whether patients with undifferentiated pruritus have higher risk of developing hematologic cancer. Furthermore, it is unclear whether serum lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) level, commonly ordered for cancer workup, has diagnostic utility in patients with pruritus.

Objective: To assess the risk of hematologic cancer and the diagnostic utility of LDH level in patients with undifferentiated pruritus.

Design, setting, and participants: This retrospective population-level cohort analysis was conducted using the TriNetX Research Network, a global health records database encompassing more than 69 million patients, from 2002 to 2020. The study included 327 502 eligible patients diagnosed with unspecified pruritus, excluding those with existing chronic pruritic dermatoses or systemic diseases known to cause pruritus, along with 327 502 matched controls.

Exposures: Development of hematologic cancer within 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years following unspecified pruritus diagnosis.

Main outcomes and measures: Primary study outcomes were 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year relative risks (RRs) for development of 9 hematologic cancers in patients with pruritus compared with control patients. Secondary outcomes were 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year RRs for any hematologic cancer at different LDH cutoffs (250 U/L and 500 U/L).

Results: After matching, the pruritus and control cohorts each had 327 502 patients (68.1% female patients; 0.4% American Indian or Alaska Native patients; 3.5% Asian patients; 22.2% Black patients; 0.1% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander patients; 59.3% White patients; mean [SD] age, 42.2 [22] years). Patients with pruritus had increased 1-year risk of Hodgkin lymphoma (RR, 4.42; 95% CI, 2.83-6.88), myeloid leukemia (RR, 2.56; 95% CI, 1.79-3.67), multiple myeloma (RR, 2.38; 95% CI, 1.66-3.41), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (RR, 2.35; 95% CI, 1.96-2.82), monoclonal gammopathy (RR, 1.90; 95% CI, 1.55-2.32), myelodysplastic syndrome (RR, 1.74; 95% CI, 1.14-2.64), and lymphocytic leukemia (RR, 1.47; 95% CI, 1.07-2.02). After 12 months, the cancer risk was comparable with that of controls. Patients with pruritus had increased LDH levels, which were not associated with increased hematologic cancer risk.

Conclusions and relevance: In this cohort study, the RR of hematologic cancer in patients with undifferentiated pruritus was highest in the first 12 months, and LDH level had limited diagnostic utility in these patients. Clinicians should consider a thorough review of symptoms and assessment of cancer risk factors when deciding on workup for patients presenting with undifferentiated pruritus.