Don’t ignore this one skin sign that might mean cancer, doctor warns

Rapid growth of white, fine hair in places that are normally hairless may mean you have acquired hypertrichosis lanuginosa, Dr. Scott Walter warns in a new TikTok.
Rapid growth of white, fine hair in places that are normally hairless may mean you have acquired hypertrichosis lanuginosa, Dr. Scott Walter warns in a new TikTok.

Don’t brush off this advice.

Dr. Scott Walter, a board-certified dermatologist in the Denver area, is asking his 1.2 million TikTok followers to be aware of an unusual symptom that can warn of a serious internal disease.

Rapid growth of white, fine hair in places that are normally hairless may mean you have a rare skin condition called acquired hypertrichosis lanuginosa (HLA).

“Lanugo is defined as fine, non-pigmented, wispy hairs, similar to what a baby makes after birth,” Walter explained in a TikTok last week. “But in adults, the growth of these hairs is paraneoplastic, meaning it’s a disorder that an internal cancer causes our body to react in a certain way.”

Rapid growth of white, fine hair in places that are normally hairless may mean you have acquired hypertrichosis lanuginosa, Dr. Scott Walter warns in a new TikTok. Dr. Scott Walter / TikTok
Rapid growth of white, fine hair in places that are normally hairless may mean you have acquired hypertrichosis lanuginosa, Dr. Scott Walter warns in a new TikTok. Dr. Scott Walter / TikTok

Walter said lanugo grows on the ears, cheeks and nose. It’s been linked to cancers of the lung, breast, uterus, colorectum, gastrointestinal system, urinary tract and ovary.

“What’s crazy is that this sign can precede the diagnosis of cancer by two and a half years, meaning this could be the first sign that you have cancer,” Walter said. “Now, again, this is super rare, and I don’t mean to scare you, but I think it’s an interesting way of our skin telling us something’s going on internally.”

Fewer than 1,000 Americans have HLA, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center.

Symptoms include tongue inflammation, swollen bumps on the tongue, an altered sense of taste, diarrhea and weight loss.

In one case, a 68-year-old woman reported feeling like her tongue was burning — and she had fine lanugo hair all over her face.

Fewer than 1,000 Americans have the condition, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Getty Images
Fewer than 1,000 Americans have the condition, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Getty Images

She was diagnosed with HLA and rectal cancer before undergoing radiotherapy.

Doctors note that the hair may stop growing if they can treat the underlying cancer.