Velvety, painful lesions that covered the palms of a 73-year-old woman’s hand turned out to be an unexpected cancer symptom.
The unnamed woman from Sao Paulo, Brazil had gone a dermatologist to ask about her skin condition.
Her story, which is now a recent case study in the New England Journal of Medicine, notes this rippled appearance, known as “tripe palms,” is associated with cancer, particularly lung cancer.
It’s a rare medical condition named “tripe” due to the similarities between the ripples in the hands and the stomach lining of cows or sheep.
Prior to visiting the doctor, the woman had lived with a cough for about a year following a 30-year history of smoking, authors noted. She’d also lost 11 pounds over a four-month period.
But it was the strange marks on her hands that convinced the woman to see a doctor.
“Physical examination revealed sharp demarcation of the folds in the lines of her hands in addition to a velvety appearance of the palmar surfaces and ridging of the skin,” doctors noted in the report. “This condition is associated with cancer, particularly lung and gastric cancer.”
What are tripe palms?
The cause of changes in the skin is unknown, but one study by doctors at Columbia University in New York in the late 1980s found more than 90 per cent of published cases of “tripe palms” resulted in a cancer diagnosis.
The Brazilian woman completed a CT scan, which found abnormalities in her lungs. A biopsy officially confirmed she had a type of lung cancer called adenocarcinoma.
Her doctors reported that chemotherapy didn’t help reduce the lesions on her palms, although they noted that sometimes this can resolve the issue.
“The lesions in this patient did not regress with chemotherapy or with the application of 10 per cent urea-containing ointment,” doctors wrote.
Six months after her diagnosis, she had to begin a second round of chemotherapy. It’s unknown if the treatment has worked for the woman.
Could other rashes mean cancer?
Experts say that while it’s incredibly rare, other odd rashes could signal a cancer diagnosis.
For instance, a spot or a sore that looks new or unusual, is itchy or bleeds and doesn’t heal within a few weeks should be checked out, according to Cancer Research UK.
Itchy red patches on the skin are likely non-cancerous but should be checked out by a dermatologist regardless, according to the British Association of Dermatologists.
In 2017, a woman received a cancer diagnosis after a “bizarre” red, inflamed rash covered her legs, arms, feet and face.
After a variety of misdiagnoses, including rheumatoid arthritis, 21-year-old Rhiannon Douglas of Staffordshire, U.K., was diagnosed with a type of Hodgkin lymphoma.
Doctors previously told Global News it wasn’t a surprise cancer was not the first assumption when experts looked at Douglas’ symptoms.
“ rash is not the most common presentation for cancer in general,” said John Kuruvilla, a cancer researcher at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto.
It was “very unusual” this type of cancer presented itself in a rash, he added.
Most people with Hodgkin lymphoma have swollen lymph nodes along with weight loss or night sweats, said Tom Kouroukis, an oncology professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.
He previously told Global News rashes could sometimes be a sign of lymphoma but could also just be an allergy or simple infection.
Douglas said she spoke out so that people know to see a doctor if they have a persistent or unusual rash
“Something as bizarre as a rash can be your body trying to show you there is something going on inside that you wouldn’t even think of,” she said.
—With files from Global News’ Patricia Kozicka
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