Last week I wrote about an article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that suggested a drug commonly used to treat high blood pressure might prevent some of the more common forms of skin cancer.
Another article in the same issue of the Journal was also thought provoking. That research suggested that the diagnosis of common skin cancers—especially in young people—may be a signal of increased risk of other more serious forms of cancer elsewhere in the body.
As I mentioned last week, skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the
In the currently reported research, the investigators’ theory was that skin cancer could be a “marker” for other problems in our bodies that would increase our risk for other common cancers. They based their theory on other research which has suggested such a relationship may exist.
The researchers collected information from about 19,000 volunteers who lived in
After adjusting for several factors, the researchers found that the risk of developing another cancer was about 2 times greater for those who had a skin cancer as opposed to those who did not develop skin cancer.
What was more interesting was that when looking at the relationship between age and the time the skin cancer was diagnosed, those who were younger at the time of skin cancer had an even greater risk of having another cancer found as compared to those who had their skin cancer diagnosed at a later age (the risk was increased risk 2.61 times in the 25-44 year old age group compared to 1.89 times greater in people ages 60 and older).
The researchers did not find that any particular “other cancer” was more common.
As one might expect—given the association with sun exposure and sunburns and all forms of skin cancer—there was a marked increase of melanoma in those people diagnosed with the less aggressive squamous and basal cell skin cancers. But even removing melanoma patients from the analysis, the increased risk held up for other forms of cancer as well.
How do you explain this finding, especially the significant increased risk of other cancers if you have a squamous or basal cell skin cancer diagnosed at a younger age?
The authors think it may reflect something to do with inherited mechanisms that affect many cells in our bodies leading to an increased risk of cancer. That would mean that these skin cancers are essentially a visible “marker” of that inherited factor or factors, which remain to be defined.
They also point out that this increased risk may apply to only certain but not all cancers.
What does this mean for you?
Maybe this article will help persuade some of the younger people who are so enamored with tanning and tanning beds to reconsider their love affair with this cancer-causing behavior. Younger people are particularly affected by the reported relationship between skin cancer and other cancers.
My concern is that with the increased use of tanning beds—which are known to increase the risk of skin cancer and are considered to be a cause of cancer by the World Health Organization—there will be more young people who fall into that category.
It could be that if you are someone that is diagnosed with a “routine” skin cancer you need to be alert to an increased risk of cancer elsewhere in your body.
That doesn’t mean you should panic.
I wouldn’t use this report as an excuse to crawl into your cave and watch television all day. But I would urge you to seek the sun sensibly, and if you are outdoors during peak sun hours, then by all means engage in sun-safe behavior, as summed up in the phrase “Slip, Slop, Slap!” (Slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, and slap on a hat—and while you’re at it, use ultraviolet-protective sunglasses.)
When you think about it, those suggestions are good advice for everyone.