EVERY YEAR, 197,000 melanoma diagnoses are made globally, and in the UK alone the malignancy constitutes approximately 5% of cancer cases. Despite high prevalence, the survival rates for melanoma are relatively high, dependent on the stage at which the cancer is detected. Herein lies the importance of early diagnosis and treatment for improving survival rates. Recent research led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK, and Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark, has now shown that bereaved individuals are less likely to be diagnosed with melanoma, but are at increased risk of dying from the disease.
The research comprised two large population-based studies between 1997 and 2017 in the UK and Denmark, investigating the differences between bereaved and nonbereaved individuals in risk of being diagnosed or dying from melanoma. In both British and Danish cohorts, bereaved individuals were found to exhibit a 17% increased likelihood of dying from their melanoma compared to nonbereaved individuals. Those who had lost a partner were also shown to demonstrate a 12% smaller likelihood of being diagnosed in the first place.
Although studies in the past have insinuated a correlation between different types of stress and melanoma progression and may have been a factor in this study, the researchers instead believe an alternative explanation could explain the findings: that nonbereaved individuals have a close partner to help notice changes in skin over time. This is important as the implementation of monitoring strategies involving a friend or family member could represent a much more actionable diagnosis strategy as opposed to focussing solely on the individual’s mental wellbeing (although this should be taken into consideration in tandem). The researchers believe that by identifying this at-risk group, measures can be put in place to speed up diagnosis and prevent these cancers from progressing to later stages where they are more aggressive and harder to treat.
Angel Wong, lead author and Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “Support for recently bereaved people, including showing how to properly check their skin, could be vital for early detection of skin cancer, and thus improved survival.” The researchers also advocate the involvement of family members and caregivers to perform routine skin examinations for the remaining partner, and for clinicians to lower the threshold for facilitating skin examinations in this demographic. Through everyone playing their part, significant gains in survival could be achieved across the melanoma spectrum.