Pruritus in Cutaneous GVHD Is Both Underreported and Understudied

By Dustin Samples - March 29, 2023

Pruritus is a skin irritation that causes an itching sensation. A recent review article demonstrated that it isn’t among the more studied results of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). This is because it is extremely common, can be caused by environmental factors, and can often be easily remedied at home with over-the-counter solutions.

“Pruritus is a common symptom of cutaneous graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) following [HSCT]. However, little is known about its prevalence, pathophysiology, perceptual characteristics, impact on quality of life and response to antipruritic therapies,” noted the authors of the recent review published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venerology.

The review screened 338 studies on cutaneous GVHD, of which 13 met the inclusion criteria. In the 13 studies included, only 4 screened for pruritus, and of those 4, only 3 had the prevalence of pruritus in their results (range, 37.0-63.8%).

Despite the relatively high prevalence of pruritus, the authors noted, “There was little or no information on the intensity of pruritus, its qualitative perception, the location of pruritus, and the impact of pruritus on quality of life.”

Interestingly, 5 studies mentioned pruritic treatments, which included topical ointments, broadband ultraviolet B therapy, systemic antihistamines, and ursodeoxycholic acid.

With increasing research focused on quality of life, as opposed to overall survival, the review authors believe that additional research on the impact, prevalence, and treatment of pruritus in cutaneous GVHD is needed.

“…Although pruritus in cutaneous GVHD appears to be common, very little is known about the pathophysiology, impact on quality of life and effective treatment options. Basic research and controlled clinical trials are warranted to improve knowledge and management of this important issue,” the study concluded.


Pruritus in cutaneous graft-versus-host disease: a systematic review