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Cancer survivors have higher risk of melanoma
December 19th, 2011
05:04 PM ET

Cancer survivors have higher risk of melanoma

Doctors have long known that people who survive one melanoma have a markedly higher risk of developing another of these aggressive skin cancers. Now, for the first time, a study has found that survivors of non-skin cancers also may have an increased risk of melanoma.

The risk was most pronounced among survivors of breast cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia. Women who developed breast cancer before age 45 and recovered, for instance, were 38% more likely than women in the general population to develop melanoma later in life.

Excessive exposure to UV radiation from sunlight (or tanning lamps) is the biggest risk factor for melanoma. The apparent link between melanoma and other cancers, however, may be explained in part by an underlying genetic susceptibility to multiple types of cancer, the researchers say.

People who have had a non-melanoma cancer should be especially vigilant about avoiding sun damage and checking their skin for moles, says senior author Jeremy S. Bordeaux, M.D., director of the melanoma program at University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland.

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"If they notice a new dark spot or a changing dark spot, they need to have that looked at by a dermatologist," Bordeaux says. And if they haven't already, he says, cancer survivors may want to see a dermatologist to get a baseline checkup. (Melanoma survivors should already have a set schedule with their skin doctor.)

Using a nationwide registry maintained by the National Cancer Institute, Bordeaux and his colleagues analyzed data from 70,819 people whose first cancer was melanoma and 6,353 who received a melanoma diagnosis after a previous cancer. Their findings appear this week in the Archives of Dermatology.

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As expected, melanoma survivors were up to 12 times more likely than people in the U.S. population as a whole to receive a melanoma diagnosis (a second one, in their case).

The melanoma risk associated with several other cancers was much lower, yet still notable. Compared to the general population, prostate-cancer survivors had a 58% higher risk and lymphoma survivors had a 79% higher risk if they received their first cancer diagnosis before age 45.

Across the board, younger cancer survivors were more likely than people initially diagnosed after age 45 to develop melanoma down the road, perhaps because cancers that develop early in life are more likely to have a genetic basis, the study notes.

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In the older age group, the risk of melanoma was elevated by 40% among survivors of thyroid cancer, 34% among lymphoma survivors, and 79% among leukemia survivors. Women who'd had breast cancer had a 12% higher risk.

Melanoma risk was just 8% higher in men who'd had prostate cancer after age 45, but that's not negligible because so many men will develop the cancer during their lifetime, Bordeaux says. "Even though the risk was kind of small, the incidence [of prostate cancer] is so high it would affect a lot of people."

The warning signs of melanoma include moles or dark spots larger than a pencil eraser and spots that are asymmetrical or unevenly colored. Regardless of their cancer history, people are at increased risk of melanoma if they have fair skin or a lot of moles, or if they've spent a lot of time in the sun.

"If melanoma is caught early, it's 100% curable," Bordeaux says. "But once it's more advanced and spreads to other parts of body, it's one of - if not the - most aggressive cancers and can be very, very fatal."

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Filed under: Cancer

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. WellnessDrive

    You may want to really look into High Doses of Vitamins – especially Vit-C (and Niacin – also known as vitamin B3).

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    December 20, 2011 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Tom, Long Beach, California

    its the worst of cancers.....took my baby sister in months...do not ignore mole changes lumps on skin!

    December 20, 2011 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Scott McKelvey

    Could it be that the cause of cancer is unrelated to a particular organ, but the underlying health of the person? Of course! The under-researched results of vascular disease is at the heart of all major degenerative diseases. Get yourself healthy. Drink more water, eat less carbs, exercise, strengthen and stretch. See the reasons behind this new way of thinking on disease cause and prevention at http://www.go-with-the-flow.org. Get yourself healthy, and then help other people too.

    December 20, 2011 at 23:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jaeme

      Cancer is NOT always (or even usually) related to being unhealthy.
      -My mom is fighting breast cancer right now-she has always exercised, eaten very healthy, and taken care of her body. She has low blood pressure, low cholesterol levels, is thin, does not smoke or drink alocohol, etc. It had nothing to do with her health.
      -My dad has had multiple cancerous moles removed. He just ran his 19th marathon-needless to say, he is also extremely health concious.
      There is nothing more either of them could have done to prevent cancer and it has nothing to do with how well they do or do not take care of themselves.

      December 21, 2011 at 12:29 | Report abuse |
  4. Greg

    really? This is news? Its long been known a major factor in cancer is family history, so why is it of ANY surprise that someone who gets one type of cancer is gonna be more likely than the general population to get another type of cancer? NO DUH! and blah blah blah don't tell me I don't know what I'm talking about, I just got done with 6 months of chemo and 2 of radiation, you'd be silly to think I haven't done my fair share of research.

    December 21, 2011 at 06:37 | Report abuse | Reply
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  10. Nevada Senemounnarat

    About 62,000 melanoma cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, and more than 8,400 people die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Previous studies have shown that the rate of new diagnoses has been increasing among adults overall, but it was unclear what was happening with younger adults.;

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.