Study Uncovers Increased Risk Factors in Some Melanoma Patients

November 1, 2005

New York--A new study warns that people who have had melanoma previously are at significant risk of developing the condition again--and that their risk increases yet again if they have developed moles called dysplastic nevi or if family members have had the sometimes fatal disease.

New York--A new study warns that people who have had melanoma previously are at significant risk of developing the condition again--and that their risk increases yet again if they have developed moles called dysplastic nevi or if family members have had the sometimes fatal disease.

The study, conducted at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, looked at 4,484 patients who had been diagnosed with melanoma for the first time between 1996 and 2002 and were followed for an average of 2.2 years. During that time, 385 people from the original group, or 8.6 percent, developed two or more melanomas, while 78 percent had two melanomas. Overall, 59 percent developed the second tumor during the year following the diagnosis of the first.

Findings of the study, which appeared in the Oct. 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, also showed that 21 percent of those who had more than one melanoma had at least one family member who also had melanoma, while only 12 percent of those with a single melanoma had a family history of the disease. Furthermore, nearly 40 percent of patients with second or third melanomas also had dysplastic nevi, while only 18 percent of those with a single tumor had a history of the abnormal moles.

The researchers estimated that the overall five-year risk of a second melanoma in those who have had the disease previously is 11.4 percent. The risk factor increases to 19.1 percent for those with a family history of melanoma, and to 23.7 percent for those who also have dysplastic nevi.

"It's important to know that we're not talking about the original melanoma recurring; we're talking about patients developing a second or even third or fourth primary melanoma, which is far easier to detect and treat," said study author Daniel Coit, M.D., co-leader of the melanoma disease management team at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. "In a way, this is a good news, bad news, good news story. The good news is that more people than ever are surviving their first melanoma. The bad news is that a significant number of these survivors are more at risk of developing another primary melanoma. And the final good news is that subsequent primary melanomas are easier to detect and treat."

According to the American Cancer Society, about 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma--and nearly 8,000 die from it--every year.