Pruritus may occur in some people with cancer but not in others. However, the
following persons with cancer may be at a higher risk for developing pruritus:
- Persons with various malignant diseases that are known to produce
symptoms of pruritus, including, but not limited to AIDS-related
Kaposi sarcoma, Hodgkin lymphoma and other lymphomas, leukemias,
adenocarcinomas, and cancer of the stomach, pancreas, lung, colon,
brain, breast, and prostate. Pruritus tends to disappear when cancer
is cured or in remission. It may reappear when the disease recurs.
- Persons who have had chemotherapy. Usually the itching subsides within
30-90 minutes and does not require treatment. The development of
pruritus may be a sign that the patient is especially sensitive to the
- Persons who have had radiation therapy. Radiation can kill skin cells
and cause burning and itching. As the skin peels off, scratching can
damage it further, which creates the potential for infection.
Treatment may need to be interrupted to allow the skin time to heal.
- Persons who have had radiation therapy plus chemotherapy. The combined
effects of these drugs can cause an increased skin reaction.
- Persons who have had biological response modifier therapy (a treatment
to try to improve the body's natural immune response to disease).
- Persons who have had bone marrow transplantation. Patients may
experience changes in skin condition that include dryness, itching, and
Drugs given at any time during cancer treatment may cause pruritus. Itching
may be caused by sensitivity to the drug, or the drug may interfere with normal
Pruritus can be a symptom of infection. The infection may or may not be
related to cancer treatment. Infections involving itching may be caused by a
tumor, fungus, discharge from a wound, or drainage after surgery.
Pruritus is a symptom, not a diagnosis or disease. If you feel itching, let
your doctor know. The doctor will ask for your medical history and give you a
thorough physical examination. This assessment will enable the doctor to
discover the problem that is causing the itching and find the best treatment