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Does an Episode of Shingles Portend Cancer?

Summary and Comment |
September 27, 2012

Does an Episode of Shingles Portend Cancer?

  1. Allan S. Brett, MD

Cancer risk was not higher in a population-based study.

  1. Allan S. Brett, MD

Clinicians have long debated whether an episode of shingles (herpes zoster) is a marker for underlying but not yet diagnosed cancer. In a retrospective cohort study, researchers in Taiwan used their national health insurance research database to address this question.

Shingles was diagnosed between 2000 and 2008 in nearly 36,000 adults with no history of cancer. During median follow-up of 4 years, cancer was diagnosed in 895 of these patients; this number of cancer events was virtually identical to the number predicted by national cancer registry data. No excess risk for cancer was found for any major cancer subgroup (head and neck, digestive, breast, lung, genitourinary, or hematologic).

Comment

A strength of this study is its population-based methodology. A search for occult cancer does not appear warranted in patients with recent episodes of shingles.

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