April 22, 2008

Skin Cancers on Scalp and Neck Boost Death Risk

People with skin cancers on the scalp or neck may be at an increased risk of mortality than others, according to the results of a new large study published in the Archives of Dermatology.

The study of 50,000 cases of melanoma found that people with skin cancers on the scalp or neck were almost twice as likely to dies as those with melanoma on their arms or legs.

The team from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine reported that the five-year survival rate for patients with scalp or neck cancer was 83%, compared with 92% for those with melanomas on the face and ears and on the extremities.

Researchers claimed that cancers on the scalp and neck were typically thicker and more likely to be ulcerated than those in other regions of the body.

This could be due to the fact that cancers in some areas tended to be hidden by hair and thus were not reported as soon as others, they said.

However, after they considered all of these factors, researchers still concluded that patients with melanoma on the scalp or neck were more likely to die. They concluded that there were biological differences between the cancers.

Patients with these types of skin cancers were typically males aged 59 as opposed to an average of 55 in the study.

"Only 6% of melanomas present with the disease on the scalp or neck, but those patients account for 10% of melanoma deaths," said Nancy Thomas, a professor of dermatology who led the research.

"That's why we need extra time to look at the scalp during full-skin examinations."

"Generally, when people are protecting themselves from the sun, the head and neck do not receive the same attention as the rest of the body," said Indy Rihal, spokeswoman of The British Skin Foundation.

"You must not ignore your neck and scalp. This new piece of research highlights the importance of this, so make sure that you always wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your scalp, face and neck too."

The Cancer Research UK group said the research should add awareness for people who are affected by melanoma.

"Melanomas can grow anywhere on the body so it's crucial to check all areas of your skin regularly for any unusual changes, as the disease is much easier to treat when it's spotted earlier," said Dr Alison Ross.


On the Net:

University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Archives of Dermatology

British Skin Foundation

Cancer Research UK