by Dr.C.H. Weaver M.D. medically reviewed 5/2019
Individuals with lymphoma or those who have undergone organ transplants are far more likely than the average person to develop—and die from—melanoma, according to the results of a review published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Melanoma is a potentially fatal type of skin cancer that begins in the melanocytes, which are the cells that are responsible for skin color. The incidence rate of melanoma has been climbing steadily since the early 1970s. Of the more than one million new diagnoses of skin cancer each year, roughly 68,000 involve melanoma. Although melanoma can be successfully cured in its early stages, it is the most common fatal form of skin cancer, accounting for more than 79% of all skin cancer–related deaths. More than 8,000 people die of melanoma each year in the United States. What makes melanoma so dangerous is that it is more likely than other types of skin cancer to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
Lymphoma patients and transplant recipients have immune systems that are significantly suppressed, which may put them at higher risk of developing melanoma. The Mayo Clinic review found that the odds of developing melanoma are 2.5 times higher in transplant recipients and lymphoma patients than in the general population. What’s more, patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) are 2.8 times more likely to die from metastatic melanoma.
Based on the results of this review, the researchers concluded that it is imperative to maintain strict screening protocols for melanoma in these patient populations. When melanoma is found early, the chance of survival is much higher.
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Immunosuppressed patients should check their skin regularly—performing a full-body self-exam every month and visiting a dermatologist for check-ups at least once or twice per year. It’s important to note any changes in the skin and see a doctor immediately. The first sign of melanoma is often a change in a mole’s appearance or the development of a new growth. The best way to catch melanoma early is to maintain awareness of the skin. What’s more—immunosuppressed patients can practice prevention by avoiding the sun and tanning beds and using sunscreen religiously.
Kubica AW, Brewer JD. Melanoma in Immunosuppressed Patients. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2012; 87(10): 991-1003.