SkinCancerNet Spotlight Article
Melanoma Survivors Have Increased Melanoma Risk

If you’ve ever had melanoma, you may want to get skin cancer checkups for life. A recent study of 89,515 melanoma survivors found that the risk of developing another melanoma remains high for years. More than 20 years after the first diagnosis, survivors still had an increased risk.

A similar study, which looked at 151,996 melanoma survivors, drew the same conclusion. The risk of developing another melanoma remains high for years.

Some Survivors Have Greater Melanoma Risk
In one study, researchers found that when the first melanoma appeared on the patient’s head or neck, the patient had a greater risk for developing another melanoma. Women were more likely than men to develop another melanoma. But when men had a head or neck melanoma and developed melanoma again, multiple melanomas were more likely to appear.

Most melanomas that develop on the head or neck are a type of melanoma called “lentigo maligna melanoma.” This type of melanoma usually develops in people who are middle-aged or older, have fair skin, and have had years of sun exposure. This melanoma may be mistaken in its early, and most treatable, stages for an age spot.

Melanoma Survivors Develop Thinner Melanomas
While these research findings may leave you feeling discouraged, there is good news. The researchers found that when a survivor developed a new melanoma, the melanoma was thinner. When it comes to melanoma, thinner is better. Thin melanomas are early melanomas. In its earliest stages, melanoma has a high cure rate. The average 5-year survival rate is 99% when melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes.

What Melanoma Survivors Can Do
Because early detection and prevention are so important, you may want to adopt these practices:

  • Keep all appointments with your dermatologist. You may want to get skin cancer checkups for life.

  • Learn how to perform skin self-exams and perform them as often as your dermatologist recommends. The earlier melanoma or another type of skin cancer is detected and treated, the higher the cure rate.

  • Ask your dermatologist if you should have any other cancer screenings. These studies also found that melanoma survivors may have an increased risk of developing some other types of cancers. But here the studies differ greatly. Each study found increased risks for different types of cancer. More research is needed to determine which types of cancer, if any, melanoma survivors may have an increased risk of developing.

  • Follow up after having any medical test. After having any medical test, including the removal of a suspicious mole, ask when you can expect to get the results. If you have not received the results by that date, follow up. Don’t assume that no news is good news.

  • Protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays. The sun, tanning beds, and sun lamps all emit harmful UV rays. You can protect your skin by not using a tanning bed or sunlamp. Sun protection also is important. Every day before going outdoors, be sure to protect your skin with either protective clothing or sunscreen.

    Protective clothing has a tight weave. When this type of clothing is held up to bright light, you will not be able to see light shining through it.

    The type of sunscreen you use also is important. The sunscreen should be broad-spectrum (protects against UVA and UBV rays), water-resistant, and have an SPF of at least 30.

More Information
Body Mole Map
On one page, you’ll find instructions for performing a skin self-exam, the ABCDEs of Melanoma Detection, and a place to draw what your moles look like.

Four Types of Melanoma
This page includes information about lentigo maligna melanoma and photos to show what this type of melanoma looks like.

Bradford PT, Freedman DM, Goldstein AM et al. “Increased risk of second primary cancers after a diagnosis of melanoma.” Archives of Dermatology, March 2010; 146: 265-72.

Casalino LP, Dunham D, Chin MH et al. “Frequency of failure to inform patients of clinically significant outpatient test results.” Archives of Internal Medicine, June 2009; 169: 1123-9.

Spanogle JP, Clarke CA, Aroner S et al. “Risk of second primary malignancies following cutaneous melanoma diagnosis: a population-based study.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, May 2010; 62: 757-67.


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With early detection, even melanoma has a high cure rate.

     © American Academy of Dermatology, 2010  All rights reserved.

Page last updated 5/5/10

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