Site Map

Xeroderma pigmentosum

Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) is a rare condition passed down through families. XP causes the skin and tissue covering the eye to be extremely sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light. Some people also develop nervous system problems.

Images

Chromosomes and DNA

I Would Like to Learn About:

Causes

XP is an autosomal recessive inherited disorder. This means you must have 2 copies of an abnormal gene in order for the disease or trait to develop. The disorder is inherited from both your mother and father at the same time. The abnormal gene is rare, so the chances of both parents having the gene are very rare. For this reason, it is unlikely for somebody with the condition to pass it on to the next generation, although it is possible.

UV light, such as from sunlight, damages the genetic material (DNA) in skin cells. Normally, the body repairs this damage. But in people with XP, the body does not fix the damage. As a result, the skin gets very thin and patches of varying color (splotchy pigmentation) appear.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually appear by the time a child is 2 years old.

Skin symptoms include:

Eye symptoms include:

Nervous system (neurologic) symptoms, which develop in some children, include:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam, paying special attention to the skin and eyes. The provider will also ask about a family history of XP.

Tests that may be done include:

The following tests can help diagnose the condition in a baby before birth:

Treatment

People with XP need total protection from sunlight. Even the light coming through windows or from fluorescent bulbs can be dangerous.

When out in the sun, protective clothing must be worn.

To protect the skin and eyes from the sunlight:

To prevent skin cancer, the provider may prescribe medicines, such as a retinoid cream, to apply to the skin.

If skin cancer develops, surgery or other methods will be done to remove the cancer.

Support Groups

More information and support for people with XP and their families can be found at:

Outlook (Prognosis)

Over one half of people with this condition die of skin cancer early in adulthood.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with the provider if you or your child has symptoms of XP.

Prevention

Experts recommend genetic counseling for people with a family history of XP who wish to have children.

Related Information

Autosomal recessive
Telangiectasia
Squamous cell skin cancer
Metastasis
Melanoma
Rashes

References

Bender NR, Chiu YE. Photosensitivity. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 675.

Patterson JW. Disorders of epidermal maturation and keratinization. In: Patterson JW, ed. Weedon's Skin Pathology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 10.

BACK TO TOP

Review Date: 4/14/2021  

Reviewed By: Elika Hoss, MD, Senior Associate Consultant, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

ADAM Quality Logo
Health Content Provider
06/01/2025

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, for Health Content Provider (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics. This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information: verify here.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2022 A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.