Unexplained Skin Redness: It Could be Cancer

Could unexplained skin redness be a sign of cancer? A new study suggests that it could be, in some cases. Find out why redness of the skin needs further evaluation.


There are a variety of reasons why the skin turns red. Most commonly skin redness occurs from overexposure to the sun – what’s usually thought of as a sun burn.  The skin can also redden after a bug bite or other irritation, as well as from certain skin conditions and diseases, and even after taking some medications. In many cases, the cause of skin redness can’t be identified even after a thorough evaluation. These people are usually given the diagnosis of “idiopathic erythema”, a term which means skin redness with no known cause.

According to a new study, this type of skin redness may be more than just a cosmetic nuisance.  Researchers in Singapore recently analyzed the records of over one-hundred cases people diagnosed with idiopathic erythema and compared them with data obtained from the Singapore Cancer Registry. After a careful review, they made some interesting observations. Despite the fact that most of the people appeared to be in reasonably good health, almost one in five were diagnosed with an underlying cancer. Most of the cancers were of the internal organs, such as the intestines, although a small number were found to have lymphoma. The researchers presented their findings at the International Congress of Dermatology and they were subsequently published in Family Practice News.

Most of the people who were diagnosed with idiopathic erythema were men and in an older age group. This is one of the few studies to look more closely at the potential consequences of unexplained redness of the skin and its association with other diseases. According to this study, people who have unexplained skin redness or idiopathic erythema may have up to a three times higher risk of having a cancer involving the internal organs that’s undiagnosed.

What is the significance of this? This study illustrates that abnormal skin redness can be an indicator of an underlying medical problem, including cancer, and shouldn’t be so quickly dismissed. Skin redness can be a sign of inflammation and chronic inflammation is thought to play a role in the development of tumors. Anyone who has unexplained redness of the skin needs further screening for cancer, even if the redness isn’t causing itching, pain, or other discomfort. This is especially true if the problem is persistent or if it occurs in an older person.

The bottom line? Unexplained redness of the skin can be a sign of underlying inflammation and, in some cases, the first sign of a cancer. Anyone with this symptom should talk to a doctor and have it investigated more thoroughly.  

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