A rare type of skin cancer has been linked to allergic reactions to metal implants, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The study’s authors described the case of a woman who had a metal rod implanted to repair a broken ankle, and later developed a skin rash near the site of the implant. Doctors determined that the patient was allergic to nickel in the implant and removed the metal rod. However, the woman’s skin rash persisted. A few years later, a rare form of skin cancer — Marjolin’s ulcer — developed at the woman’s rash site. Doctors removed the cancer.

In experiments with mice, the researchers showed that chronic skin inflammation caused by continuous skin contact with allergens can lead to tumor development.

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Patients who have metal devices implanted near the skin may need to be monitored for this type of inflammation, said the researchers at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. They added that their findings also raise the question of whether patients should be tested for metal allergies before receiving metal implants.

Study leader Shadmehr Demehri, M.D., said allergen-free versions of some implants are available. “These versions may cost more or be less durable, but for some patients with sensitivity to metals, they may be the best option,” Demehri, a dermatologist, said in a university news release.


  1. Demehri, Shadmehr, et al. “Chronic allergic contact dermatitis promotes skin cancer.” The Journal of Clinical Investigation. doi:10.1172/JCI77843. October 8, 2014.