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What is the Connection Between Hives and Cancer?

A medical exam can determine if hives and other conditions are linked to cancer.
Weight loss can accompany hives as symptoms related to cancer.
Hives may be linked to gastrointestinal cancers.
Small cluster of hives.
Anti-itch cream can be applied to alleviate the symptoms of hives.
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  • Written By: Marlene de Wilde
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 17 August 2015
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There are many causes of hives or, in medical terms, urticaria. Though cancer is by no means a major cause of the condition, there is a connection between some cases of hives and cancer, particularly gastrointestinal, lung, and lymphoma. Hives may be a precursor to cancer, in some cases, and chronic conditions should be checked. They usually co-exist with other symptoms, such as weight loss, night sweats, abdominal pain, and coughing.

Hives are red welts that may be small and localized on the body or large and widespread. They are typically not associated with long-term or serious complications, but instead, they are caused when there is an allergic reaction and the body releases histamine and other chemicals. This is usually in response to certain foods, medications, extreme or sudden changes in temperature, and insect bites, among other factors. The mechanism causing the reaction can be allergic or non-allergic.

The majority of cases of hives are acute, meaning that they last less than six weeks. Most of these are caused by an allergic reaction to a specific substance. Chronic hives, or cases lasting more than six weeks, occur in about 30% of cases. This is when the condition may be a symptom of an underlying disease such as thyroid disease; hepatitis; viral, fungal or bacterial infections; or cancer.

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When hives are accompanied by other cancer symptoms, such as weight loss, night sweats, abdominal pain, hemoptysis, jaundice, coughing, or lymphadenopathy, then tests need to be carried out to find the cause. The combination of these symptoms and hives may be a cause for alarm, but other conditions need to be ruled out first before the underlying etiology for both conditions can be determined.

The diagnostic approach depends on the suspected type of cancer. The most common kinds that hives may be a precursor of are gastrointestinal, lung, and lymphoma. Gastrointestinal cancer includes cancer of the esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, bowel, biliary system, and anus. Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system, including the lymph nodes and bone marrow.

An allergist-immunologist should be consulted in cases of chronic hives. In order to check whether there is a connection between hives and cancer in individual cases, a detailed medical history of the patient and the patient's family needs to be taken. Details of the home and work environment may be important, and tests may include blood and urine tests and X-rays. If a food allergy is suspected but not obvious, then a skin biopsy many be necessary. The link between this symptom and cancer is a very small one, but in the presence of other symptoms, it is a connection that needs to be checked.

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anon991302
Post 4

I have had welts/ hives on and off for the last six months. At first I blamed medication containing sulfur, stopped meds and still got it. Then I thought it was maybe wine with sulfates, so I stopped that and still got welts. I found out I had gall stones, so they removed my gall bladder and in recovery I got swollen lips, which U also had had throughout the last six months.

I had read comments by people who had the gall bladder removed and the welts went away. The doctor removed mine two weeks ago and I got them this week again. Is it normal for them to come and go and not be able to pin the allergy to something?

It may be be the welts and the swollen lips are not related, but this has been going on for six months and have no answers. Does anyone have any ideas?

fBoyle
Post 3

@ysmina-- That may be true to some extent. But I don't think it's a good idea to go and test everyone with frequent hives for cancer. I'm not an expert on this topic and I could be wrong. I just doubt that this connection is so strong that we can consider hives a symptom of cancer. Do we have any experts or doctors here who can clarify?

ysmina
Post 2

I wonder if this connection has to do with the immune system. I mean, hives is an immune system response and cancer is also something that happens when the immune system is weak. Immune system cells don't recognize and fight cancer cells.

So it's really not surprising that there is a link between these two. Someone with cancer is probably more likely to get hives.

SteamLouis
Post 1

I had no idea that hives and cancer were related. I got hives twice in the last month. It was due to contact allergy, due to mites or chemicals in detergent. Hopefully they didn't last long. Some allergy medication and hydrocortisone cream took care of it quickly.

I always thought of hives as something that happens when the body is unable to deal with an allergen or has no tolerance for it. On the other hand, cancer is mutated cells that keep multiplying in the body. So it never occurred to me that the two could be linked.

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