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by Dr. C.H. Weaver M.D. 8/2019

The inherited risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers is of great concern to individuals related to those diagnosed with skin cancer - familial risk is currently poorly defined. New research suggests that patients with a family history of melanoma occurring in first degree relatives are indeed at greater risk for developing melanoma and other skin cancers.

Doctors from Harvard Medical School evaluated the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers in 216,115 individuals from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) where participants have now been followed for more than 20 years. In the study participants provided information about melanoma and skin cancer history for themselves and for first-degree relatives periodically over the study duration.

Results of the study demonstrated that individuals with a history of melanoma in a first-degree relative had a 74% higher risk of developing melanoma compared with those without a family history. The greatest risk was observed for melanoma lesions occurring on the trunk and extremities. The risk of squamous and basal cell carcinoma was also increased.

The NHS is the largest study evaluating familial risk for hereditary skin cancer. The study clearly suggests that having a family history of melanoma is associated with an increased risk of developing melanoma, squamous cell, and basal cell carcinoma. Individuals with a parent or sibling know to have a diagnosis of melanoma should ensure they undergo regular skin exams as early detection is the best “treatment” for melanoma.

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Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (August 2019;81[2]:489-499)