New Link Between Breast Cancer and Melanoma

Understanding the Importance of Early Detection Through Routine Health Exams

New York, NY (September 21, 2009) - Women with breast cancer have an increased risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, and women with melanoma are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. According to a recent study published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science, there is a strong association between breast cancer and melanoma. While earlier studies have noted a link between the two malignancies, this is the first time researchers have explicitly advised doctors to monitor breast cancer patients for signs of melanoma, and vice versa.

Investigators led by photobiologist Gillian M. Murphy, MD, a member of The Skin Cancer Foundation's International Advisory Council, examined the 6788 cases of melanoma and 27,597 cases of breast carcinoma between 1994 and 2007 documented in Ireland's National Cancer Registry. They mathematically determined that if there was no statistically significant relationship between the two, 30-35 patients could be expected to have both malignancies. Instead, there were 127.

"In general, patients with melanoma or other skin cancers are always at higher risk of developing other malignancies," Dr. Murphy commented. "But this is about a fourfold increase, which raises the possibility of a genetic predisposition linking the two cancers."

The Irish Journal of Medical Science study corroborates the findings of journals such as Annals of Oncology and Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, which reported that breast cancer patients have between 1.4 and 2.7 times the risk of developing melanoma. In addition, The International Journal of Cancer noted that female melanoma patients have a 1.4 times greater chance of developing breast cancer.

"All of these studies reinforce the importance of routine breast cancer exams for melanoma patients and annual skin exams for breast cancer survivors," said Perry Robins, MD, President of The Skin Cancer Foundation. "It is particularly alarming for young women as melanoma rates are increasing rapidly among this demographic." Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old. Women under the age of 39 have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer except breast cancer.

The Foundation recommends that high-risk patients undergo an annual full-body skin screening by a physician. And self-exams are just as important, coupled with the practice of rigorous sun protection methods. Performed regularly, self-examination can alert you to changes in the skin and aid in the early detection of skin cancer. For instructions on how to perform a self-exam, visit http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/early-detection/step-by-step-self-examination

Now celebrating its 30th year, The Skin Cancer Foundation is committed to educating the public and medical professionals about sun safety. As leaders in the fight against skin cancer, the Foundation is the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, detection and treatment of the world's most common cancer. The mission of the Foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research. To learn more about the Foundation and its programs, visit www.SkinCancer.org.