Keep an Eye on Dermatitis Caused by Metal Implants

Bust an ankle or a major bone in your leg? Perhaps your hips have been causing you grief and you’re scheduled for a hip replacement. Chances are, reconstruction will involve use of a metal implants.

Metal alloys including nickel, cobalt, and chromium contained in metal implants given them their strength and long-term durability. However, metal allergies are common (especially to nickel) and many people suffer complications as a result of these implants; most commonly chronic joint pain, swelling, loosening, and joint failure. A small percentage of people (0.1-5%) suffer dermatitis when implants are placed in close proximity to the skin.

Doctors and researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine have documented the occurrence of a serious type of skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma [SCC]) following an ankle repair that involved placement of a metal rod. Soon after surgery, the patient complained of irritation in the area of skin overlying the metal rod. Subsequently, she was found to have a nickel allergy and the rod was removed. However, the irritation persisted and worsened, and three years later investigations revealed an SCC.

This finding prompted a warning from the authors for people to be vigilant at monitoring their skin, particularly following implantation of a metal device under areas of sun-exposed skin. Skin patch testing for allergies prior to the placement of implantable devices should also be carried out.

Demehri S, Cunningham T, Hurst E at al. Chronic allergic contact dermatitis promotes skin cancer. J Clin Invest. Oct 2014. doi:10.1172/JCI77843.

Topics: All Blog Articles, Skin Health

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