Conference Coverage

Several uncommon skin disorders related to internal diseases reviewed



Five of the more uncommon dermatologic disorders – sarcoidosis, Rosai-Dorfman disease, Erdheim-Chester disease, eosinophilic fasciitis, and cutaneous Crohn disease – are linked to internal diseases and may spawn misdiagnoses, a dermatologist told colleagues.

“Proper diagnosis can lead to an effective management in our patients,” said Jeffrey Callen, MD, professor of medicine and chief of dermatology at the University of Louisville (Ky.), who spoke at the Inaugural Symposium for Inflammatory Skin Disease.


The cause of sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that tends to affect the lungs, “is unknown, but it’s probably an immunologic disorder,” Dr. Callen said, “and there probably is a genetic predisposition.” About 20%-25% of patients with sarcoidosis have skin lesions that are either “specific” (a biopsy that reveals a noncaseating – “naked” – granuloma) or “nonspecific” (most commonly, erythema nodosum, or EN).

The specific lesions in sarcoidosis may occur in parts of the body, such as the knees, which were injured earlier in life and may have taken in foreign bodies, Dr. Callen said. As for nonspecific lesions, about 20% of patients with EN have an acute, self-limiting form of sarcoidosis. “These patients will have bilateral hilar lymphadenopathy, anterior uveitis, and polyarthritis. It’s generally treated symptomatically because it goes away on its own.”

He cautioned colleagues to beware of indurated, infiltrative facial lesions known as lupus pernio that are commonly found on the nose. They’re more prevalent in Black patients and possibly women, who are at higher risk of manifestations outside the skin, he said. “If you have it along the nasal rim, you should look into the upper respiratory tract for involvement.”

Dr. Callen recommends an extensive workup in patients with suspected sarcoidosis, including biopsy (with the exception of EN lesions), cultures and special stains, and screening when appropriate, for disease in organs such as the eyes, lungs, heart, and kidneys.

As for treatment, “the disease is in the dermis, and some topical therapies are not highly effective,” he said. There are injections that can be given, including corticosteroids, and there are a variety of oral treatments that are all off label.” These include corticosteroids, antimalarials, allopurinol, and tetracyclines, among several others. Subcutaneous and intravenous treatments are also options, along with surgery and laser therapy to treat specific lesions.

Rosai-Dorfman disease

This rare disorder is caused by overproduction of certain white blood cells in the lymph nodes, which can cause nodular lesions. The disease most often appears in children and young adults, often Black individuals and males. It is fatal in as many as 11% of patients, justifying aggressive treatment in patients with aggressive disease, Dr. Callen said. When it’s limited to the skin, however, “nothing may need to be done.”

Dr. Callen highlighted consensus recommendations about diagnosis and treatment of Rosai-Dorfman disease published in 2018.

He also noted the existence of cutaneous Rosai-Dorfman disease, a “solitary process” that appears more commonly in females, and in people of Asian heritage, compared with White individuals. It is characterized by single, clustered or widespread lesions: They can be xanthomatous, erythematous, or red-brown papules, nodules, and plaques. They’re acneiform, pustular, giant granuloma annulare–like, subcutaneous, and vasculitis-like, he said.

While Rosai-Dorfman disease can be linked to lymphoma, hypothyroidism, and lupus erythematosus, “nothing necessarily needs to be done when it’s skin-limited since it can be self-resolving,” he noted. Other treatments include radiotherapy, cryotherapy, excision, topical and oral corticosteroids, thalidomide, and methotrexate.

The disease can be serious, and is fatal in 5% of cases. When a vital organ is threatened, Dr. Callen suggested surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.


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