What’s New in Melanoma Research? A HealthCentral Explainer

ATsai Editor
  • Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, but despite all the warnings, a lot of people still do not protect themselves against the sun the way they should. Here is some of the latest research on risk factors, diagnosis, survivors and gender differences.


    How does melanoma affect men?

    A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that young men are more likely to die from melanoma than young women, regardless of severity. Researchers looked at 26,000 cases of young, white men and women over 20 years, and determined that men accounted for 40 percent of melanoma cases, but 64 percent of the deaths. After adjustments for tumor type, thickness and location, the research showed that men were 55 percent more likely to die from melanoma.  In addition, with patients who had more than one type of cancer, men were twice as likely to die.

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    Researchers say fundamental biological factors cause the disparity, rather than behavior differences. Some theories on the biological differences between men and women involve the immune system, sex hormones, genetic factors and the way the body metabolizes vitamin D.


    In addition, other research has shown that skin cancer is the kind of cancer men are most likely to face. Also, men over 50 are twice as likely to develop skin cancer as women. In that case, behavioral differences are thought to be the reason for this risk, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.


    Research has found that while men tend to spend more time in the sun than women, they are less likely to use sunscreen or use proper sunscreen techniques. One study, from the National Sun Protection Advisory Council, found that men spend 35 hours a week in the sun, and only 25 percent make an effort to stay out of the sun. Women spend 10 fewer hours a week n the sun and 39 percent make an effort to stay out of the sun. Many times men will work outdoors or play sports outside without thinking about sun protection, and if they do, they aren’t applying it correctly or reapplying often enough. 


    The second problem is that men are more likely to develop skin cancer on their ears and scalp, because they typically have less hair in these areas to protect from the sun. The back, chest and shoulders are also at-risk areas for skin cancer on men.


    Third, men are less likely to go to the doctor for routine skin cancer screenings, which could help catch skin cancers early.


    Researchers say prevention, early detection and prompt treatment are all essential for overcoming melanoma.


              [SLIDESHOW: 7 Tips to Prevent Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers]


    How do melanoma survivors fare?

    A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons found that melanoma recurrence is more common 10 years or more after successful treatment than previously believed, but, these patients tend to live longer after the recurrence than patients whose melanoma returns in the first three years.


    Patients who are more at risk of having a melanoma recurrence after 10 years are more likely to have been diagnosed initially at a younger age, and have less severe characteristics of the original tumor, compared to those patients who had a recurrence after three years.


    Researchers looked at 4,731 patients with melanoma, and 408 had a late melanoma recurrence. The scientists found that 6.9 percent of the patients had a late-recurring melanoma after adjusting for other factors. They concluded that melanoma risk never goes away, which is why people need to follow up with their doctor for life after a diagnosis.

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    Unfortunately, other research has found that many melanoma survivors are not protecting themselves against the sun the way they should. A recent U.S. survey found that 27 percent of melanoma survivors still don’t wear sunscreen, and 2 percent continue to use tanning beds. Researchers analyzed data from 171 melanoma survivors, and found that most were taking precautions to prevent future melanoma, but a surprising number were not. They found that 27.3 percent of survivors said they never wore sunscreen outside on a sunny day for more than  an hour, 15.4 percent said they rarely or never stayed in the shade, and 2.1 said they had used a tanning bed in the last year. Researchers say it’s possible that some survivors may be experiencing an addiction to tanning, which is being researched further.


                [SLIDESHOW: 6 Steps to Check for Melanoma]


    Is there a new way to detect melanoma?

    A recent study published in the Journal of Chromatography B has found a way to detect melanoma in the odors from human skin cells. Researchers used techniques to sample and analyze airborne molecules in the odors from human skin cells, and were able to detect a unique chemical signature from melanoma. Previous research has shown that dogs have the ability to sniff out diseases, such as prostate cancer from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in urine.


    In this study, researchers looked at two different methods to detect melanoma odors from skin cells. The first experiment used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to analyze and look for differences in the mix of VOCs captured from melanoma cells, compared to normal cells. They found differences in concentrations of certain VOCs and also found compounds in the VOC mix of melanoma that were not found in normal cells. They could even see differences between different types of melanoma cells based on their VOC signature.


    The second experiment looked at a nano-sensor, which would be portable and useful in a clinical setting. This device can be bioengineered to recognize specific targets, including odor molecules. When researchers tested it, they found that it could also detect VOCs from melanoma and VOCs from normal cells, and could also distinguish between melanoma cells.


    Researchers say this could be a non-invasive way to diagnose melanoma.




    Gholipour, Bahar. (2013, June 26). “Melanoma Deaths More Likely in Young Men Than Women.” LIveScience. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/37778-melanoma-gender-disparity.html


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    n.p. “You Are at Risk.” Skin Care Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.skincancer.org/healthy-lifestyle/anti-aging/you-are-at-risk


    Glynn, S. (2013, July 1). "Melanoma Recurs After 10 Years In Over 6% Of Patients." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262706.php


    Paddock, C. (2013, April 9). "1 In 4 Melanoma Survivors Still Skips Sunscreen." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/258773.php


    Paddock, C. (2013, June 14). "Melanoma Detected In Skin Odor." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/261950.php



Published On: July 02, 2013