History of Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Increases Risk of Melanoma

History of Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Increases Risk of Melanoma

According to a study published in the journal Cancer, postmenopausal women with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer have a roughly 70% greater risk of developing melanoma than women without such a history.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. It is generally divided into two categories: melanoma and non-melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancer is much more common than melanoma, but also more curable. The most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Basal cell carcinomas account for a majority of skin cancers in both men and women. Basal cell carcinomas are slow growing and most commonly appear on sun-exposed areas of the skin. Squamous cell carcinomas are less common than basal cell carcinomas and tend to be more aggressive. Like basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas tend to appear on sun-exposed skin.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can be quite deadly once it has spread beyond the site of origin. However, this disease is highly curable when caught and treated prior to spread. Individuals with fair skin, freckles, a strong family history of melanoma, or those who have spent significant time unprotected in the sun are advised to visit a dermatologist regularly for melanoma screening so that the cancer may be caught and treated as early as possible.

To evaluate the risk of melanoma among women with and without a history of non-melanoma skin cancer, researchers analyzed information from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. Between 1994 and 1998, the study enrolled 93,676 postmenopausal women from around the U.S. The current analysis focuses on the 67,030 women of non-Hispanic white race who had no history of cancer other than non-melanoma skin cancer. A history of non-melanoma skin cancer was reported by 5552 of these women.

After an average of 6.5 years of follow-up, melanoma was uncommon, but developed more frequently in women with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer than in women with no history of non-melanoma skin cancer.

  • Melanoma developed in 59 of the 5552 women with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer and 272 of the 61,478 of the women without a history of non-melanoma skin cancer. This corresponds to roughly 160 cases per 100,000 women per year among those with a family history of non-melanoma skin cancer and 70 cases per 100,000 women per year among those without a family history of non-melanoma skin cancer.
  • After accounting for several factors that may influence the relationship between non-melanoma skin cancer and melanoma (such as age, education, smoking, body mass index, geographic region, sun exposure and family history of cancer), the risk of melanoma was 70% higher in women with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer than in women without such a history.

The researchers conclude that the link between non-melanoma skin cancer and subsequent melanoma “is important not only for further defining melanoma risk in white postmenopausal women, but also for sensitizing the medical community to this risk and for developing new routines of follow-up and patient assessment by medical providers to promote the early detection of melanoma.”

Reference: Rosenberg CA, Khandekar J, Greenland P et al. Cutaneous Melanoma in Postmenopausal Women After Nonmelanoma Skin Carcinoma. Cancer. Early online publication December 19, 2005.

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