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01.12.2011 | Case report | Ausgabe 1/2011 Open Access

Journal of Medical Case Reports 1/2011

Cutaneous lupus erythematosus after treatment with paclitaxel and bevacizumab for metastatic breast cancer: a case report

Journal of Medical Case Reports > Ausgabe 1/2011
Pia Vihinen, Outi Paija, Atte Kivisaari, Leena Koulu, Heikki Aho
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​1752-1947-5-243) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

PV was the major contributor to the writing of the manuscript. PV and OP participated in the treatment of the patient as medical oncologists and analyzed and interpreted the patient data regarding treatment of metastatic breast cancer. AK and LK participated in the treatment of the patient's skin symptoms and performed the skin biopsy. HA performed the histological examination of the skin biopsy. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
cyclophosphamide, epirubicin, fluorouracil
computed tomography
drug-induced lupus erythematosus
lupus erythematosus
vascular endothelial growth factor.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease characterized by the presence of autoantibodies to the nuclear and cytoplasmic antigens in conjunction with several clinical manifestations [ 1]. Cutaneous lupus lesions typically occur in light-exposed areas and can be triggered by sunlight exposure [ 1]. Drug-induced lupus erythematosus (DILE) is a syndrome that shares symptoms and laboratory characteristics with idiopathic SLE [ 2]. More than 80 drugs have been associated with DILE [ 2]. Paclitaxel is an anti-cancer agent that is used for the treatment of patients with breast cancer, ovarian cancer, gastrointestinal cancers and tumors of the head and neck. Paclitaxel treatment is often associated with neurological pain, hair loss and nail changes, but skin disorders such as photosensitivity are less common. Paclitaxel has been associated with inducing acral erythema [ 3], scleroderma [ 4] and Stevens-Johnson syndrome [ 5]. A recent case report also described paclitaxel-induced cutaneous lupus erythematosus in patients with Sjögren's syndrome [ 6].
Bevacizumab is an anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) antibody that may improve the effect of taxane-based regimens in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer [ 7]. A recent study has shown that bevacizumab-paclitaxel combination therapy prolongs progression-free survival, compared with paclitaxel alone, in patients with metastatic breast cancer [ 8]. The most common toxicities associated with bevacizumab are hypertension and hemorrhage, gastrointestinal perforation, arterial thromboembolism, impaired wound healing and proteinuria [ 9]. Cutaneous disorders are rare side effects of bevacizumab therapy. Cutaneous side effects were not mentioned at all in an earlier study in which 365 patients were treated with bevacizumab-paclitaxel combination therapy, and the overall frequency of grade 3 allergic reactions in that study was only 3% [ 8]. In the present case report, we describe a patient without known previous autoimmune disorders who developed a reaction resembling acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus (LE) after therapy with paclitaxel and bevacizumab.

Case presentation

Our patient was a 58-year-old Caucasian woman who had been diagnosed in September 1999 with estrogen receptor-positive (ER +), progesterone receptor-positive (PR +), human epidermal growth factor receptor 2/neu (Her2/neu)-negative ductal breast cancer assessed as American Joint Committee on Cancer stage IIA (pT1 pN1 M0 G1). She was initially treated with partial mastectomy and evacuation of axilla. No signs of disseminated disease were detected. Radiotherapy (50 Gy) was given to the left breast and lymph nodes. The patient received adjuvant tamoxifen therapy (20 mg/day) for five years, until January 2005. In 2003, she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and treated with thyroxin substitution daily. In 2004, she was diagnosed with high blood pressure and was treated with metoprolol (47.5 mg/day).
In March 2007, routine mammography showed a new local tumor in the left breast, and radical mastectomy was performed. The ductal residual tumor was assessed as pT1 pNX G2 and was ER +, PR + and Her2/neu-negative. A palpable tumor was found at the left side of her neck, and a fine-needle biopsy showed metastasis of her breast cancer. A whole-body computed tomographic scan showed multiple liver metastases and multiple metastases in the left lung and the spleen.
First-line chemotherapy was started with weekly paclitaxel 80 mg/m 2 on days 1, 8 and 15 of a 28-day cycle and concomitant bevacizumab 10 mg/kg every two weeks. Her blood pressure was elevated after the first infusion, and the previous metoprolol dose was doubled to 90 mg/day. Her serum creatinine and bilirubin levels were normal (creatinine 77 μmol/L, normal range 50 to 90 μmol/L; bilirubin 18 μmol/L, normal range 5 to 25 μmol/L) before beginning therapy. Her serum alkaline phosphatase level was increased (214 U/L, normal range 35 to 105 U/L). After two combined infusions of paclitaxel-bevacizumab, an itchy papulosquamous rash was apparent on sun-exposed areas of the skin of her arms, legs and face (Figure 1). The rash was treated with cetirizine (10 mg/day) and topical corticosteroids. Her blood pressure was further elevated, and metoprolol was replaced by candesartan cilexetil-hydrochlorothiazide combination therapy. Her paclitaxel-bevacizumab treatment continued, but the rash on her arms and legs worsened. The patient was referred to a dermatologist, and skin biopsies were performed. The skin biopsy specimen showed non-specific inter-phase dermatitis, which may be associated with LE (see Figure 2). A direct immunofluorescence study did not show deposition of immunoglobulins at the basement membrane zone, but C3 on Civatte bodies was positive. Simultaneously, her serum anti-SSA/Ro (> 240 U/mL, normal range 0 to 6.99 U/mL), anti-SSB/Ro (94.4 U/mL, normal range 0 to 6.99 U/mL) and anti-extractable nuclear antigen (anti-ENA) antibodies were positive. Paclitaxel-bevacizumab combination therapy was discontinued and replaced by cyclophosphamide, epirubicin, fluorouracil (CEF), after which her skin rash disappeared within two weeks. Her serum anti-SSA/Ro antibodies were 8.1 U/mL and her anti-SSB/Ro antibodies were 5.0 U/mL when checked three months after discontinuation of the therapy. Her serum anti-ENA antibodies were not checked. Her serum alkaline phosphatase level had decreased during therapy (from 274 U/L at maximum to 121 U/L, normal range 35 to 105 U/L), and her other liver enzyme values were not markedly changed.


Common presenting symptoms of DILE include arthralgia, myalgia, malaise and fever [ 2]. The laboratory profile of DILE includes anti-histone antibodies, especially immunoglobulin G anti-DNA antibody, in the absence of other anti-nuclear antibody specificities [ 2]. Typically, the symptoms improve within days or weeks after discontinuation of the suspected drug. DILE with cutaneous manifestations has rarely been described in patients treated with paclitaxel [ 6] or docetaxel [ 10]. In earlier studies, taxane-related cutaneous LE has been related to a pre-existing history of Sjögren's syndrome [ 6]. Our patient had no history of autoimmune disorders; however, hypothyroidism was present. This might be associated with the previous adjuvant radiotherapy for local breast cancer.
Skin acneiform rash is a typical side effect of cetuximab but has seldom been described in association with bevacizumab. However, Gotlib and co-workers [ 11] described a patient with colorectal cancer who developed a skin rash secondary to bevacizumab therapy that correlated with response. In our patient, cutaneous toxicity was apparent only in sun-exposed areas, that is, the face, forearms and legs, in contrast to the more commonly seen acneiform rash on the face, neck and upper back of patients treated with cetuximab [ 12].
In our case, the cutaneous biopsy showed inter-phase dermatitis (Figure 2), which is a non-specific cutaneous reaction to several stimuli. It is seen in lichen planus, other lichenoid reactions, erythema multiforme and LE, all of which can be caused by drugs. Typical lichen planus can be ruled out morphologically and clinically. The histological pattern matches that of erythema multiforme or subacute LE. Positive anti-SSA/Ro antibodies support the latter possibility. However, direct immunofluorescence with positive C3 in the dermoepithelial junction was non-specific and the typical lupus band was not observed.
Cutaneous LE has not previously been described in patients treated with bevacizumab. However, previous studies involving skin specimens have shown that receptors for VEGF are present in keratinocytes in human epidermis [ 13]. Similarly, Kikuchi and co-workers [ 14] have shown that serum concentrations of VEGF are increased in collagenous diseases, suggesting that this growth factor might also be important in the pathogenesis of collagenous diseases other than rheumatoid arthritis. In our case, it is probable that the cutaneous reaction resembling LE was caused by paclitaxel, but the role of bevacizumab cannot be ruled out. We suggest that this skin reaction was specifically related to these drugs because it did not reappear when the patient received CEF treatment, even though fluorouracil is known to be a photosensitizing agent which can also induce DILE [ 2].


We conclude that paclitaxel-bevacizumab combination treatment might cause cutaneous LE in patients with no history of autoimmune disorders. In addition, while the use of bevacizumab for various indications such as metastatic renal cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer is increasing, rare side effects such as skin disorders are possible.


Written informed consent was obtained from the patient for publication of this case report and any accompanying images. A copy of the written consent is available for review by the Editor-in-Chief of this journal.


The authors' original studies were supported by the Southwest Funds of the Finnish Cancer Research Foundation and Turku University Hospital EVO grants (projects 13040 and 13041).
This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://​creativecommons.​org/​licenses/​by/​2.​0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

PV was the major contributor to the writing of the manuscript. PV and OP participated in the treatment of the patient as medical oncologists and analyzed and interpreted the patient data regarding treatment of metastatic breast cancer. AK and LK participated in the treatment of the patient's skin symptoms and performed the skin biopsy. HA performed the histological examination of the skin biopsy. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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