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Skin Signs of Lung Cancer

author image Matthew Fox, MD
Dr. Matthew Fox graduated from the University of California with a Bachelor of Arts in molecular, cell and developmental biology and received a M.D. from the University of Virginia. He is a pathologist and has experience in internal medicine and cancer research.
Skin Signs of Lung Cancer
Problems with the skin can be evidence of underlying cancers.

Lung cancer causes several types of symptoms. including generalized, whole body symptoms such as fatigue and weight loss. Lung cancer also causes symptoms from the invasion of the tumor into normal tissues, as well as symptoms related to various hormone-like compounds produced by the tumor. These processes can produce visible changes in the skin.

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Dermatomyositis is an inflammatory disease that causes muscle weakness and a rash. The muscle weakness is progressive, and tends to occur in and around the hips and shoulders equally on both sides of the body. The rash is red to violet and may have blue patchy discoloration. It most commonly occurs over the eyelids and around the eyes, but may also occur on the hands, arms, legs and trunk. It can be a sign of almost any type of cancer, according to a 2002 article in "Clinics in Geriatric Medicine," but most commonly occurs with lung, GI tract and breast cancers. However, it may be present without a cancer in the body.

Acute Multiple Seborrheic Keratoses

The sign of Leser–Trélat is the sudden appearance or growth of seborrheic keratoses, as noted by the review article in "Clinics in Geriatric Medicine." These skin lesions are very common in normal elderly people as well, however. They are generally brown to black raised lesions with a waxy appearance, most commonly located on the face, chest or back.

Paraneoplastic Pemphigus

Paraneoplastic pemphigus is a blistering disorder of the skin and mucous membranes such as the mouth. It usually occurs with lymphomas, which are blood cancers, but can occur with lung cancer as well, according to the text, "Clinical Dermatology."

Carcinoid Syndrome

Carcinoid syndrome occurs with a specific type of cancer called a carcinoid. These cancers are typically found in the appendix or in the lungs, according to "Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine." Carcinoid tumors secrete chemicals that cause frequent watery diarrhea, trouble breathing, an accelerated heart rate and skin flushing. The skin typically turns red, pink, purple or blue on the face or upper chest, and can last from under a minute to an hour or longer.


Metastasis is the migration of tumor cells from the main tumor in the lung to another part of the body. Metastasis of lung cancer to the skin appears most frequently as one or multiple nodules on the chest, abdomen, neck or head, according to "Clinical Dermatology." They are typically painless.

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  • "Clinics in Geriatric Medicine"; Skin Manifestations of Internal Malignancy; Irwin Braverman, M.D.; February 2002
  • "Clinical Dermatology"; Thomas Habif; 2009
  • "Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine"; Anthony Fauci; 2008
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