Background Immunosuppressants used to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may contribute towards the development of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC). Few studies have documented this increase in risk.
Methods A mail-in survey was sent to practicing dermatologists and gastroenterologists in the state of Hawaii, USA. These physicians were asked if they had patients with IBD on immunosuppressants with NMSC and if they were aware of an association between immunosuppressants used in IBD and the occurrence of NMSC. Physicians were located via the Yellow Pages telephone directory and the websites http://www.healthgrades.com and http://www.ucomparehealthcare.com.
Results Of the 96 surveys delivered, 45 were returned for analysis. Overall, 73.3% of responding physicians knew about an association between NMSC and immunosuppressants for IBD, but 26.7% had no knowledge of this association. When respondents were categorized according to specialty, 90.9% of dermatologists reported knowing about this association, but only 46.2% of responding gastroenterologists reported this awareness (P = 0.0034). Of the respondents who did not provide details of their specialty, 70.0% reported knowledge of the association.
Conclusions Immunosuppressants are helpful in controlling IBD symptoms and progression but should only be used after a thorough assessment of their risks and benefits in each patient. After the initiation of immunosuppressants, patients should have access to appropriate preventative and treatment modalities for NMSC.