A 54-year-old male with a past medical history of atrial flutter and alcohol use disorder presents with an umbilical wound that has been bothering him for approximately six months. There is no history of trauma, prior infection, or umbilical surgery. There is intermittent mild pain and irritation that occurs randomly. No drainage or bleeding. He admits to picking at the wound regularly. He denies fever, chills, nausea, generalized abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, dysuria, and hematuria. The patient drinks four or more alcoholic beverages daily and has a long-standing history of tobacco use.
Skin: Umbilical wound characterized by a peripheral eschar and a central area of hyperpigmented and crusted tissue overlying an area of whiteish moist tissue that was uncovered by gentle cleansing. No surrounding erythema and no areas of fluctuance. No active drainage or malodor.
Sister Mary Joseph (SMJ) nodule is a rare cutaneous metastasis of gastrointestinal or genitourinary primary malignancies to the umbilicus [1,3]. They are typically firm, painful, indurated, and irregularly shaped, with sizes typically less than 2 cm . They can be ulcerated or necrotic with variable presence of discharge ranging from purulent to serous or serosanguinous . Sister Mary Joseph nodules typically arise late in disease and portend a poor prognosis . Most primary malignancies are adenocarcinomas (75%), and pancreatic cancers represent approximately 9% of umbilical metastases . Mean survival of patients with SMJ nodules is less than 12 months, and less than three in those with pancreatic primaries . Prognosis is slightly less bleak if the SMJ nodule is the only metastatic site . Sister May Joseph Dempsey was a nun and surgical assistant to Dr. William Mayo, the surgeon who developed the approach to umbilical hernia repair and the first to identify the connection between abdominopelvic cancers and umbilical nodules [2,3].
Our patient was discharged on the initial visit with wound care instructions. He returned to the Emergency Department two months later and was admitted for atrial flutter with rapid ventricular response and acute on chronic congestive heart failure. During that visit, the patient had a CT chest/abdomen/pelvis that demonstrated likely a pancreatic tail adenocarcinoma with metastasis to the peritoneal and abdominal walls. The patient declined any further intervention.
Vekariya P, Daneti DB, Senthamizh Selvan K, Verma SK, Hamide A, Mohan P. Sister Mary Joseph Nodule as an Initial Presentation of Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma. ACG Case Rep J. 2020 Aug 25;7(8):e00453. doi: 10.14309/crj.0000000000000453. PMID: 32903972; PMCID: PMC7447472.
Palazzi DL, Brandt ML. Care of the umbilicus and management of umbilical disorders. UpToDate. Updated August 27, 2021. Accessed January 2, 2022. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/care-of-the-umbilicus-and-management-of-umbilical-disorders?search=sister%20mary%20joseph%20nodule&source=search_result&selectedTitle=2~6&usage_type=default&display_rank=2#H25.
Tso S, Brockley J, Recica H, Ilchyshyn A. Sister Mary Joseph’s nodule: an unusual but important physical finding characteristic of widespread internal malignancy. Br J Gen Pract. 2013 Oct;63(615):551-2. doi: 10.3399/bjgp13X673900. PMID: 24152477; PMCID: PMC3782795.