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When cancer treatment leads to vitiligo

A dermatology-oncology collaboration helped a patient avoid choosing between skin disease and cancer treatment.

Shawn's story

Shawn Bruton, SkinSerious patient story
Shawn Bruton, patient
I didn’t expect my cancer treatment to damage my skin.

Three years after my lung cancer diagnosis, discolored patches appeared on my stomach, arms, and legs. My dermatologist, Dr. Anisha Patel, diagnosed me with vitiligo and explained the cancer therapy was destroying melanin cells that control my skin tone.

It was an impossible situation: the very treatment that was helping me was also hurting me. Yet if I stopped the treatment, the cancer would continue to spread. Thankfully, my physicians knew what to do. Dr. Patel worked closely with my oncologist to develop a collaborative plan that protected my skin during cancer treatment. In addition, I underwent light therapy and topical treatments for vitiligo every other day for six months. The two doctors consistently coordinated to ensure my vitiligo treatment was progressing and didn’t jeopardize my cancer therapy.

The treatments worked wonders. The vitiligo is now barely visible, and my lung cancer is in full remission. My treatment journey isn’t over, but I’m reassured there’s an excellent, collaborative team looking out for me.

The dermatologist's perspective

Anisha Patel, MD

“Patients can become hesitant about continuing their cancer treatment once they know skin issues are a side effect. It’s our role as dermatologists to address these complications so patients can focus on healing and receive the most effective cancer care available. Shawn’s oncologist and I worked closely together to ensure the vitiligo treatment wasn’t affecting her experimental cancer therapy and vice versa. As a result of our close coordination and focus on Shawn’s quality of life, we developed a plan to quickly address her skin changes.”

─ Anisha Patel, MD, FAAD, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

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