Background: It is well established that the incidence of skin cancers in patients with CLL are significantly elevated compared to age- and sex- matched controls. However, little is known about the characteristics of CLL patients who develop skin cancer. Herein, we evaluate the associations of CLL clinical and prognostic characteristics, along with UV radiation exposure, with risk of first skin cancer following CLL diagnosis.

Methods: Newly diagnosed CLL patients from Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin were enrolled in the Mayo Clinic case-control study from 2002-2015 and systematically followed in the Iowa/Mayo Lymphoma SPORE. Clinical and prognostic CLL data were obtained from the Mayo Clinic CLL database, and skin cancer clinical data were abstracted from medical records using a standard protocol. The CLL international prognostic index (CLL-IPI) was computed using a weighted average of five independent CLL prognostic factors (IGHV mutational status, serum b2-microglobulin, Rai stage, age, and FISH 17p deletion/TP53 status). Self-reported history of midday sun exposure at various ages (birth to age 12; 13 to 21 years; 22 to 40 years, and 41+ years) was obtained from a risk factor questionnaire. For each age, we asked the extent of mid-day sun as: practically no exposure (under 3 hours per week), little exposure (4-7 hours per week), moderate exposure (8 to 14 hours per week) and extensive exposure (15+ hours per week). Midday sun exposure was modeled as an ordinal covariate. To evaluate associations with risk of skin cancer following CLL diagnosis, we calculated time from date of CLL diagnosis to date of first skin cancer, death, or last known follow-up. We used Cox regression analysis to estimate hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% CIs. CLL treatment was considered a time-dependent covariate.

Results: Among 846 CLL patients enrolled, the median age at diagnosis was 63 years (range 28-91), 68% were male, 7% had Rai stage III-IV at diagnosis. Based on the CLL-IPI, 42% were categorized as low risk, 33% as intermediate risk, and 25% as high or very-high risk. 109 CLL cases (13%) had one or more reported skin cancers at or prior to CLL diagnosis. Melanoma was observed in 19 (2%) cases and non-melanoma was in 90 (11%) cases. At a median follow-up of 7 years from CLL diagnosis, 165 patients (20%) had one or more skin cancers after CLL diagnosis. Among these patients, 49 had skin cancer before CLL diagnosis. The most frequent skin cancer was squamous cell carcinoma (59%), followed by basal cell (31%), melanoma (5%), and Merkel cell (1%). 552 (65%) of the 846 patients returned a questionnaire. Significant associations of clinical and prognostic characteristics with risk of first skin cancer were observed for age (HR=1.35 per 10 year increase, 95% CI=1.17-1.56, P<0.001), male sex (HR=1.38, 95% CI 0.98-1.96, p=0.07), prior history of skin cancer (HR=4.19, 95% CI=2.98-5.88, P<0.001), and CLL-IPI (HR=1.26, 95% CI= 1.03-1.54, P=0.026, after adjusting for age, sex, and prior skin cancer). Of note, the risk of first skin cancer in those CLL patients categorized as very high via CLL-IPI had 2.28 fold risk (95% CI 1.02-5.11). Midday sun exposures for each of the ages considered showed no evidence of association with risk of first skin cancer (all P>0.05). 50 CLL patients were treated prior to first skin cancer following CLL diagnosis; we observed no evidence of association between treatment and risk of first skin cancer (HR=1.44, 95% CI= 0.93-1.92, P=0.12).

Conclusion: CLL patients who are at an increased risk of skin cancer following CLL diagnosis are those who either have had a prior history of skin cancer or a more aggressive CLL disease at diagnosis, according to CLL IPI. Routine skin cancer screening is currently recommended for CLL patients. Our data suggest that more frequent screening would be particularly important among patients with aggressive CLL and who have a prior history of skin cancer. Unexpectedly, we found no evidence of association of skin cancer risk with UV radiation following CLL diagnosis or with CLL treatment. Further investigation is needed to determine whether other factors increase the risk of skin cancer following CLL diagnosis.


Shanafelt:Genentech: Research Funding; GlaxoSmithkKine: Research Funding; Janssen: Research Funding; Celgene: Research Funding; Cephalon: Research Funding; Pharmacyclics: Research Funding; Hospira: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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