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Health & Medicine for Senior Citizens

Cancer Survivors Face Increased Risk of Melanoma; Melanoma Survivors Even More

Melanoma the most aggressive, dangerous skin cancer, fifth most common cancer among men, seventh among women

Scar after removal of melanoma from top of senior citizens head

Dec. 19, 2011 – New research brings bad news for cancer survivors and, in particular, melanoma skin cancer survivors, who are most often senior men. A report in the Archives of Dermatology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, finds all cancer survivors have an increased risk of melanoma and this risk his greatest for those who have already been diagnosed with melanoma.

Melanoma is one of the most aggressive forms of skin cancer. Also known as cutaneous (skin) melanoma (CM), it is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer among U.S. men and the seventh most commonly diagnosed cancer among U.S. women.

It is estimated there will be over 70,000 new cases of CM in the U.S. this year and there will be about 8,800 deaths. There is also ocular melanoma, which occurs in the colored part of the eye. It is much less common than skin melanoma, striking about 2,500 U.S. adults each year.

The incidence of CM is increasing and death rates from the disease have not significantly diminished, according to background information in the article. The greatest risk factor for CM development is UV radiation exposure, though this risk is affected by patients' race and genetics.


Related Archived Stories


Pre-Melanoma Skin Lesion Found Mostly in Elderly Successfully Removed with Laser

Lentigo maligna disappears as carbon dioxide laser exerts its effect by vaporization of water-containing cells - Nov. 21, 2011

Coffee, Favorite Drink of Seniors, Provides Protection from Basal Cell Carcinoma

Women get almost twice as much protection as men among 3-cup a day drinkers - see video - Oct. 26, 2011

Senior Citizens Facing Melanoma Should Worry More About Their Health Than Their Age

Patients with lower muscle density had much higher rates of their cancer returning – regardless of the tumor size or patient's age

Aug. 30, 2011

Vitamin D Appears Linked With Risk of Skin Cancer, Although Relationship Complex

Study looked at vitamin D level in senior citizens with non-melanoma skin cancers - Aug. 15, 2011

Melanoma Skin Cancer a Chronic Disease Causing Long-Term Problems for Women

Women need additional care, including follow-up and possibly counseling to optimally cope with melanoma - Feb. 21, 2011

Screening for Skin Cancer Needs Better Guidelines, More Emphasis on Senior Men

Screening without regard for risk factors can be low-yield - only 1.5 per 1,000 people screened in a national program had melanoma

Oct. 20, 2010

Most Likely to See Basal Cell Carcinoma Return with Red Hair, More Education, Early First One

Senior citizen men are most likely victims of these skin cancers but if first is after age 75, less likely to get another

Aug. 16, 2010

New Substance Highlights Melanoma Skin Cancers for Early Detection by Hybrid Scanner

Could save thousands of senior citizens by detecting melanoma in its most curable stage

Aug. 11, 2010

Advanced Melanoma Appears Cured in Some Patients by New Ipilimumab Drug Therapy

Large Phase III clinical trial finds 67% increase in survival for this drug treatment (See Video) - June 7, 2010

UK Scientists Get Green Light to Test Vaccine for Melanoma Cancers

Hope it will reverse, and even cure malignant melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer

May 26, 2010

Studies Find Increases in Non-Melanoma, Melanoma Skin Cancers; JAMA Article Says It’s Chronic Disease

Senior Citizens major targets of skin cancer;  bout one in five 70-year-olds have had non-melanoma skin cancers, and most who were affected have had more than one

March 15, 2010

Study Finds We Are Winning the War on Cancer as Death Rates Decline Steadily Since 1990

For those under age 75, drop in cancer death rate between 1970-2006 resulted in about 2.0 million years of potential life gained

March 9, 2010

Faster Diagnosis of Deadly Melanoma Skin Cancers May Come From Infrared System

Doctors need to identify a mole that may be melanoma at an early, treatable stage to save the lives of thousands of senior citizens

Feb. 26, 2010

People with Most Moles are Most Likely to Develop Deadly Melanoma Cancer, Study Finds

Already well known that people with red hair, fair skin and those who sunburn easily are most at risk of melanoma

July 6, 2009

Most Melanoma Skin Cancers Found by Physicians are on Male Senior Citizens

These doc-detected cancers tend to be thinner, found on back, more treatable

April 20, 2009

Valentine's Day Gift Idea for Senior Couples: Screen the One You Love

Couples encouraged to examine each other for suspicious moles that could be skin cancer. Researchers estimate that 40 – 50% of people in the U.S. who live to age 65 will have nonmelanoma skin cancer at least once.

Feb. 2, 2009

Large Skin Lesions More Likely to be Melanomas; Scalp, Neck Cancers More Deadly

Screening becomes increasingly critical as rate of melanomas increases

April 21, 2008

New Type Drug Found Effective in Innovative Attack on Melanoma Cancer

New drug with chemotherapy more than doubled the time patients survived without progression of their cancer - Sept. 26, 2007

Skin Cancer Most Likely to Strike Wealthy Old Men

Top three skin cancers increase with age; but malignant melanomas decrease as men pass 75, says Northern Ireland study - June 11, 2007

Skin Cancer Information Targeting Senior Citizens Now on NIH Senior Health Site is based on the latest research on aging

May 31, 2007

Fastest Growing Skin Cancers More Likely to Occur in Men 70 or Older

Non-factors: age spots, history of sun exposure, skin type, history of melanoma - Dec. 18, 2006

Older Men Lead in Melanoma Deaths but Need Extra Motivation to Seek Screening

Melanomas increase 15-fold in 50 years – mostly in men over age 50

July 10, 2006

Researchers Find Success in Engineering White Blood Cells to Kill Melanoma Cancer Cells

New method of gene therapy developed at National Cancer Institute

August 31, 2006


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Geoffrey B. Yang, B.S., a medical student at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio, and colleagues analyzed data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database (1988-2007) to understand the risk of cutaneous melanoma following a previous cancer.

The study included 70,819 patients with CM as a first primary cancer (median age of 54 years at the time of melanoma diagnosis) and 6,353 patients with CM (median age 70 years at the time of melanoma diagnosis) following a previous cancer.

The greatest number of melanomas developed among patients with a previous melanoma diagnosis - a finding consistent with other studies. Among patients younger than 45 years at first cancer diagnosis, 777 developed CM, with significantly higher risks among those with prior CM, other skin cancer, Kaposi sarcoma, female breast cancer and lymphoma.

Patients 45 years of age or older at first cancer diagnosis had significantly higher risk of developing CM following prior CM, other skin cancers, ocular melanoma, female breast cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma and leukemia.

"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]," the authors write.

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

Melanoma can also occur in the colored part of the eye. For information about that form of melanoma, see melanoma of the eye. Ocular melanoma, also known as uveal melanoma, is the most common primary cancer of the eye in adults -  about 2,500 adults every year in the U.S.

Study in 2010 Found Melanoma Survivors at Increased Risk for Another Melanoma

Survivors of one melanoma appear approximately nine times as likely as the general population to develop a second melanoma, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March of 2010.

Porcia T. Bradford, M.D., and colleagues at the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md., used nine cancer registries to identify 89,515 patients who survived at least two months after an initial melanoma diagnosis between 1973 and 2006.

Of these, 10,857 (12.1 percent) developed one or more additional primary cancers, such that their overall risk of another cancer increased by 28 percent. One-fourth of these subsequent cancers were primary melanomas. Women with head and neck melanoma and patients younger than 30 had additionally increased risks of a subsequent melanoma.

"The risk remains elevated more than 20 years after the initial melanoma diagnosis. This increased risk may be owing to behavioral factors, genetic susceptibility or medical surveillance," the authors conclude. "Melanoma survivors should remain under surveillance not only for recurrence but also for future primary melanomas and other cancers."

More About Melanoma

Do You Have Melanoma?

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color or feel of a mole. Most melanomas have a black or black-blue area. Melanoma may also appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal or "ugly looking."

Thinking of "ABCD" can help you remember what to watch for:

   Asymmetry - the shape of one half does not match the other

   Border - the edges are ragged, blurred or irregular

   Color - the color in uneven and may include shades of black, brown and tan

   Diameter - there is a change in size, usually an increase

Melanoma can be cured if it is diagnosed and treated early. If melanoma is not removed in its early stages, cancer cells may grow downward from the skin surface and invade healthy tissue. If it spreads to other parts of the body it can be difficult to control.



The American Cancer Society recommends professional skin examinations every year for people older than 40, and every 3 years for people ages 20 - 40.

You should also examine your skin once a month, using a mirror to check hard-to-see places. Call your doctor if you notice any changes.

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to reduce your exposure to sunlight. Ultraviolet light is most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so try to avoid sun exposure during these hours. Protect the skin by wearing hats, long-sleeved shirts, long skirts, or pants.

   ● Apply high-quality sunscreens with sun protection factor (SPF) ratings of at least 15, even when you are only going outdoors for a short time.

   ● Apply a large amount of sunscreen on all exposed areas, including ears and feet.

   ● Look for sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB light.

   ● Use a waterproof formula.

   ● Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply it frequently, especially after swimming.

   ● Use sunscreen in winter, too. Protect yourself even on cloudy days.

Other important facts to help you avoid too much sun exposure:

   ● Avoid surfaces that reflect light more, such as water, sand, concrete, and white-painted areas.

   ● The dangers are greater closer to the start of summer.

   ● Skin burns faster at higher altitudes.

   ● Avoid sun lamps, tanning beds, and tanning salons.

Types of Skin Cancer

Skin cancers are named for the type of cells that become malignant (cancer). The three most common types are:

   ● Melanoma: Melanoma begins in melanocytes (pigment cells). Most melanocytes are in the skin. See the picture of a melanocyte and other skin cells.

Melanoma can occur on any skin surface. In men, it's often found on the skin on the head, on the neck, or between the shoulders and the hips. In women, it's often found on the skin on the lower legs or between the shoulders and the hips.

Melanoma is rare in people with dark skin. When it does develop in peoprk szusually found under the fingernails, under the toenails, on the palms of the hands, or onsoles of the feet.

   ● Basal cell skin cancer: Basal cell skin cancer begins in the basal cell layer of the skin. It usually occurs in places that have been in the sun. For example, the face is the most common place to find basal cell skin cancer.

In people with fair skin, basal cell skin cancer is the most common type of skin cancer.

   ● Squamous cell skin cancer: Squamous cell skin cancer begins in squamous cells. In people with dark skin, squamous cell skin cancer is the most common type of skin cancer, and it's usually found in places that are not in the sun, such as the legs or feet.
However, in people with fair skin, squamous cell skin cancer usually occurs on parts of the skin that have been in the sun, such as the head, face, ears, and neck.

Unlike moles, skin cancer can invade the normal tissue nearby. Also, skin cancer can spread throughout the body. Melanoma is more likely than other skin cancers to spread to other parts of the body. Squamous cell skin cancer sometimes spreads to other parts of the body, but basal cell skin cancer rarely does.

When skin cancer cells do spread, they break away from the original growth and enter blood vessels or lymph vessels. The cancer cells may be found in nearby lymph nodes. The cancer cells can also spread to other tissues and attach there to form new tumors that may damage those tissues.

The spread of cancer is called metastasis.

See the Staging section for information about skin cancer that has spread.

National Cancer Institute

See the online booklet
What You Need To Know About™ Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers to learn about melanoma symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and questions to ask the doctor.

Links to More Information


Information about treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and vaccine therapy

   ● Melanoma Treatment
[ patient ] [ health professional ]

   ● Clinical Trials to Treat Melanoma

   ● Intraocular (Eye) Melanoma Treatment
[ patient ] [ health professional ]

   ● Clinical Trials to Treat Intraocular (Eye) Melanoma

   ● Drugs Approved for Melanoma

   ● New Therapies Offer Much-Needed Options for Patients with Melanoma

   ● Metastatic Cancer


Prevention, Genetics, Causes

Information related to prevention, genetics, risk factors

   ● Skin Cancer Prevention
[ patient ] [ health professional ]

   ● Genetics of Skin Cancer
[ health professional ]

   ● Clinical Trials to Prevent Melanoma

   ● Anyone Can Get Skin Cancer

   ● Regular Sunscreen Use May Reduce Invasive Melanoma Risk

   ● Melanoma Risk Assessment Tool

   ● Cancer Risk: Understanding the Puzzle

   ● Understanding Gene Testing

   ● Cancer Genetics Services Directory

Screening and Testing

Information about methods of cancer detection including new imaging technologies, tumor markers, and biopsy procedures

   ● Skin Cancer Screening
[ patient ] [ health professional ]

   ● Interpreting Laboratory Test Results

   ● Tumor Markers

Clinical Trials

Information and current news about clinical trials and trial-related data

   ● Melanoma Trial Results

   ● Clinical Trials for Melanoma

   ● How to Find a Cancer Treatment Trial

Cancer Literature

Resources available from the PubMed database

   ● Cancer Topic Searches: Skin Cancers and Melanoma

   ● Cancer Topic Searches: Cancer Genetics

   ● Cancer Literature in PubMed

Research and Related Information

Includes NCI-supported research, funding opportunities, and special reports

   ● Cancer Trends Progress Report: Sun Protection

   ● Skin SPOREs

   ● NCI Funded Research Portfolio


Information related to cancer incidence, mortality, and survival

   ● Cancer Stat Fact Sheet: Melanoma of the Skin

   ● Snapshot of Melanoma

   ● Finding Cancer Statistics

   ● Understanding Cancer Statistics


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