PEOPLE who have been treated for skin cancer have an increased risk of developing a new primary cancer according to a study published in the British Journal of Cancer*.

Researchers analysed information held on the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry (NICR) between 1993-2002. They studied 20,823 people who had been treated with non-melanoma** skin cancer and 1,837 people who had had melanoma to observe how many of these people went on to develop a second primary cancer. They compared this data with the incidence of cancer in people with no history of skin cancer.

They found that compared with the general population, the chance of people developing a new primary cancer after they had developed non-melanoma skin cancer was increased by up to 57 per cent – and the risk was much higher in those who had had squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) than those who had basal cell carcinoma (BCC). The subsequent risk of developing a new primary cancer after melanoma was more than double.

People who had been diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer were almost two-fold more likely to go on to develop melanoma and had an increased risk of smoking-related cancers. Malignant melanoma, also known as melanoma, is the most serious type of skin cancer with more than 9,500 new cases diagnosed in the UK each year and almost 2,000 deaths.

There are more than 76,500 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer registered in the UK each year. It is estimated that the actual figure could be at least 100,000 because this type of cancer can go unreported. There are two types – basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Professor Liam Murray, a study author based at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “This study confirms that people with a diagnosis of skin cancer have an increased future risk of developing another type of cancer, especially one of the other types of skin cancer or a smoking related cancer – and for those with melanoma the risk may be more than double that of the rest of the population.

“There are several possible explanations for this link. Sun exposure is an important risk factor for all types of skin cancers so patients who have had one type of skin cancer may be more likely to develop other types as well. Alternatively a new skin cancer may be more likely to be detected in patients who are monitored following their first diagnosis of skin cancer.

“The increase in smoking-related cancers may be because smoking predisposes to skin cancer as well as other cancers or because people who smoke may be more likely to have generally unhealthy lifestyles including excessive sun exposure.”

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information, said: “We know that lifestyle factors such as excessive UV exposure, smoking, being overweight and drinking too much alcohol can increase the risk of cancer.

“These important findings could help doctors target health information more accurately to people who have been treated for skin cancer to help them reduce their risk of developing a second cancer.

“It’s important to remember that around two-thirds of melanomas and 90 per cent of non-melanoma skin cancers are caused by UV exposure and using a sunbed once a month or more, can increase risk of skin cancer by more than half. Using sunbeds before the age of 35 increases risk of developing melanoma skin cancer by up to 75 per cent.

“Avoiding excessive exposure to UV can dramatically reduce a person’s risk of developing skin cancer in the first place. Winter sun seekers in search of a fast tan boost should remember to cover up, to use factor 15 plus sun cream and avoid the midday sun to prevent burning, as well as reduce the risk of developing a second cancer.”


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*MM Cantwell. Second primary cancers in patients with skin cancer: a population-based studying Northern Ireland. British Journal of Cancer (2008).

For more information on how to stay healthy in the sun visit the Cancer Research UK web site:

**The study analysed 14,422 patients who had been treated with basal cell carcinoma and found they had a nine per cent greater risk of developing a second cancer. The 6,401 people who had squamous cell carcinoma were at 57 per cent greater risk of developing a second cancer.

Queen’s University Belfast

Queen’s University Belfast is a member of the prestigious Russell Group of top 20 research-intensive universities in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1845, Queen’s has more than 17,000 students from over 80 countries, 3,500 staff and 100,000 graduates worldwide. The University has a record of achievement in frontline research, first-class education and a commitment to internationalisation.

Queen’s £25 million Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology is a cross-Faculty, interdisciplinary research centre with over 300 clinical and basic researchers from across the world. It is committed to the highest quality of research excellence and its mission is to develop new avenues for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer and infectious diseases, to relieve human suffering. To achieve this it is developing the highest quality clinical and basic science research programmes. The hallmark of Queen’s cancer research programme is a close, collaborative interaction between clinical and laboratory research experts that ultimately enhances the quality and scope of its integrated basic and clinical research programmes in cancer as well as other diseases.

Queen’s is also home to the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry which was re-established in May 1994 under an agreement between the Department of Health & Social Services, Northern Ireland and the University. The new Registry replaced an older incomplete, paper based Registry, which had been established in 1959. The new Registry retains the card records from the older Registry. The Registry is part of the Centre for Clinical & Population Sciences (CCPS) in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences in Queen’s University Belfast. The Registry has collaborative working links with the National Cancer Registry of Ireland, all other UK Registries, European Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute USA.

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