Emory Report

September 21, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 5

Skin cancer associated with risk from other cancers

A new study from researchers at the American Cancer Society and Emory suggests that people who have had skin cancer have a slightly increased risk of dying from other cancers.

According to the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, men and women who had skin cancer had approximately a 25 percent higher annual risk of death from any cancer than did people without skin cancer.

The researchers also found that a history of skin cancer was associated with small increases in risk across many cancers rather than large increases in a few. Five of six previous studies have found a similar association between a history of skin cancer and later diagnosis of other cancer.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data on more than a million adults who were participants in Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS II). CPS II, a prospective mortality study of about 1.2 million Americans, was begun by the American Cancer Society in 1982. Over a 12-year follow-up (1982 to 1994), the researchers compared the annual risk of dying from cancer among approximately 35,000 men and women who reported having had skin cancer (other than melanoma) to that in more than one million people who did not report a history of skin cancer. The analyses were adjusted for age, race, tobacco smoking and other factors known to be associated with cancer risk. The study measured cancer death rates rather than diagnoses, making it less likely that the association reflects more attentive medical care.

"These skin cancers have long been known to be associated with melanoma but not with other cancers," said Henry Kahn, professor of family and preventive and lead author of the study. "We don't yet understand whether the association reflects shared genetic susceptibility or shared external risk factors. Although people who have had skin cancer and their doctors should be more alert to the possibility of other cancers, the real audience for this study is medical researchers looking for common factors in different cancers."

Each year in the United States there are approximately one million cases of highly curable skin cancers. The American Cancer Society notes most of these cancers are preventable and recommends limiting sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; covering as much skin as possible when in the sun by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a hat that shades the face, neck and ears; and using sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of 15 or higher. Most skin cancers can be cured by regular checkups, early detection and removal by a doctor.

--Lynn Camoosa

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