A cohort study on the risk of lymphoma and skin cancer in users of topical tacrolimus, pimecrolimus, and corticosteroids (Joint European longitudinal lymphoma and skin cancer evaluation – JOELLE study)

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  • Jordi Castellsague
  • Josephina G. Kuiper
  • Anton Pottegård
  • Ingegärd Anveden Berglind
  • Daniel Dedman
  • Lia Gutierrez
  • Brian Calingaert
  • Myrthe P.P. van Herk-Sukel
  • Jesper Hallas
  • Anders Sundström
  • Arlene M. Gallagher
  • James A. Kaye
  • Carolina Pardo
  • Kenneth J. Rothman
  • Susana Perez-Gutthann

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Background: There is a concern that topical tacrolimus and pimecrolimus, indicated for second-line treatment of atopic dermatitis, may increase the risk of lymphoma and skin cancer, particularly in children. Objective: The aim of this study was to compare incidence rates (IRs) of lymphoma and skin cancer between new users of topical tacrolimus or pimecrolimus and users of moderate-to high-potency topical corticosteroids (TCSs) and untreated subjects. Methods: This is a multicenter cohort study with frequency matching by strata of propensity scores in population databases in the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and the UK. IR ratios (IRRs) were estimated using Mantel–Haenszel methods for stratified analysis. Results: We included 19,948 children and 66,127 adults initiating tacrolimus, 23,840 children and 37,417 adults initiating pimecrolimus, 584,121 users of TCSs, and 257,074 untreated subjects. IRs of lymphoma per 100,000 person-years were 10.4 events in children and 41.0 events in adults using tacrolimus and 3.0 events in children and 27.0 events in adults using pimecrolimus. The IRR (95% confidence interval [CI]) for lymphoma, tacrolimus versus TCSs, was 3.74 (1.00–14.06) in children and 1.27 (0.94–1.71) in adults. By lymphoma type, the highest IRR was 3.17 (0.58–17.23) for Hodgkin lymphoma in children and 1.76 (95% CI, 0.81–3.79) for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) in adults. For pimecrolimus versus TCSs, the highest IRR was 1.31 (95% CI, 0.33–5.14) for CTCL in adults. Compared with untreated subjects, adults using TCSs had a higher incidence of CTCL (IRR, 10.66; 95% CI, 2.60–43.75). Smaller associations were found between tacrolimus and pimecrolimus use and the risk of malignant melanoma or nonmelanoma skin cancer. Conclusion: Use of topical tacrolimus and pimecrolimus was associated with an increased risk of lymphoma. The low IRs imply that even if the increased risk is causal, it represents a small excess risk for individual patients. Residual confounding by severity of atopic dermatitis, increased monitoring of severe patients, and reverse causation could have affected the results.

JournalClinical Epidemiology
Pages (from-to)299-310
Publication statusPublished - 2018

    Research areas

  • Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, Database study, Malignant melanoma skin cancer, Topical calcineurin inhibitors

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