Breast Cancer Patients at Higher Risk for Melanoma

Skin Check-Ups and Self-Exams are Critical

New York, NY (October 4, 2011) —Women with breast cancer have an increased risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. In the US in 2010, there will be an estimated 29,260 new melanoma cases in women.

Genetics may play a role, since women with abnormalities in the BRCA2 gene for breast cancer susceptibility have more than two times the chance of developing melanoma than those without mutations in the gene.

Breast cancer patients and survivors would be advised to:

Beware of photosensitivity. Photosensitivity is an increased sensitivity or abnormal response of the skin to sunlight or artificial ultraviolet (UV) light; people with photosensitivity are at increased risk of developing skin cancers. Photosensitivity can be caused by certain medical conditions and treatments, and breast cancer patients should find out if their treatments could make them photosensitive. If so advised by their physicians, breast cancer patients should be especially careful to seek shade and stay out of direct sunlight between 10 AM and 4 PM, the sun’s most intense hours; wear sun-protective clothing, including wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses; and apply a high Sun Protection Factor sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher is advisable for photosensitive individuals) that includes some combination of the ingredients avobenzone, ecamsule, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide for UVA protection.

Be screened. The Foundation recommends that people at high risk of melanoma and other skin cancers undergo frequent full-body skin screenings by a physician— once a year or more often as your physician advises.

Perform self exams. Self-exams are also important. Performed regularly, (monthly is ideal) self-examination can alert you to changes in the skin and aid in the early detection of skin cancer.

Because skin cancers can vary in appearance, it is important to be on the lookout for early warning signs. Melanomas, for instance, often resemble moles. Look especially for skin changes of any kind, and do not ignore a suspicious spot simply because it does not hurt.

Skin cancers may be painless, but dangerous all the same. See a physician, preferably one who specializes in diseases of the skin, if you note any change in an existing mole, freckle, or spot or if you find a new one with any of the warning signs of skin cancer.

Know The Warning Signs.
Be careful to take note of the following:

  • A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored.
  • A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that:

    • changes color
    • increases in size or thickness
    • changes in texture
    • is irregular in outline
    • is bigger than 6mm or 1/4”, the size of a pencil eraser
    • appears after age 21
  • A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed.
  • An open sore that does not heal within three weeks.

Look for any of the warning signs when you perform a self exam. You’ll need a bright light, a full-length mirror, a hand mirror, two chairs or stools, a blow dryer, body maps and a pencil.

  1. Examine your face, especially the nose, lips, mouth, and ears – front and back. Use one or both mirrors to get a clear view.
  2. Thoroughly inspect your scalp, using a blow dryer and mirror to expose each section to view. Get a friend or family member to help, if you can.
  3. Check your hands carefully: palms and backs, between the fingers and under the fingernails. Continue up the wrists to examine both front and back of your forearms.
  4. Standing in front of the full-length mirror, begin at the elbows and scan all sides of your upper arms. Don’t forget the underarms.
  5. Next focus on the neck, chest, and torso. Women should lift breasts to view the underside.
  6. With your back to the full-length mirror, use the hand mirror to inspect the back of your neck, shoulders, upper back, and any part of the back of your upper arms you could not view in step 4.
  7. Still using both mirrors, scan your lower back, buttocks, and backs of both legs.
  8. Sit down; prop each leg in turn on the other stool or chair. Use the hand mirror to examine the genitals. Check front and sides of both legs, thigh to shin, ankles, tops of feet, between toes and under toenails. Examine soles of feet and heels.


About The Skin Cancer Foundation

The Skin Cancer Foundation is the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, detection and treatment of skin cancer.  The mission of the Foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research.  For more information, visit