A study published in the December issue of the Archives of Dermatology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals reveals that, cancer survivors have a higher chance of developing cutaneous melanoma (CM), one of the most aggressive forms of skin cancer. Individuals with previously diagnosed melanoma are at the highest risk.

In the United States, CM is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer among men and the seventh among women. The number of CM cases is rising, while mortality rates from the disease have not considerably decreased. UV radiation exposure is the greatest risk factor for the development of CM, although this risk is affected by individuals’ genetics and race.

In order to understand the risk of CM in cancer survivors, Geoffrey B. Yang, B.S., a medical student at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio, and his team examined data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database from 1988 to 2007. 70,819 individuals diagnosed with CM as a first primary cancer (median age of 54 years at the time of diagnosis) were included in the investigation, as well as 6,353 cancer survivors with CM (median age 70 years at time of melanoma diagnosis).

The researchers discovered that individuals with a previous melanoma diagnosis were at higher risk of developing melanoma – a discovery consistent with other investigations. Among individuals under 45 years at initial cancer diagnosis, 777 developed cutaneous melanoma.

The risk of developing CM was considerably higher among patients with previous CM, other skin cancer, Kaposi sarcoma, lymphoma and female breast cancer. Individuals aged 45+ at initial cancer diagnosis had a considerably higher risk of developing CM following first CM diagnosis, other skin cancers, female breast cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, ocular melanoma, and prostate cancer.

The researchers explain:

“Characteristics associated with better survival in both cohorts included female sex, age younger than 45 years at melanoma diagnosis, being married, being white vs. black, decreasing Breslow depth [how deeply tumor cells have invaded], lack of tumor ulceration, no nodal involvement, and absence of metastases [the spread of cancer from the primary tumor to other locations in the body.”

They conclude:

“Given that cutaneous melanoma is the most common second primary cancer in patients with first CM (a risk that remains elevated for over 15 years), our results suggest the need for continued skin surveillance in melanoma survivors.”

Written by Grace Rattue