Melanoma survival rate 'dependent on location'

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have suggested that melanoma survival depends on where the skin cancer first appears. A study of 51,704 previous melanoma cases in the US found that melanomas occurring on the scalp or neck led to death at nearly twice the rate of melanomas on other parts of the body. While it was previously thought that scalp and neck skin cancers have a worse prognosis as they are often diagnosed later than other forms of the disease, the new study took this into account and still showed a clear difference in survival rates. As a result, Dr Nancy Thomas, associate professor of dermatology in the UNC School of Medicine, a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the study's senior author, has advised doctors to take extra care when examining patients for signs of skin cancer. "Only six per cent of melanoma patients present with the disease on the scalp or neck, but those patients account for ten per cent of melanoma deaths. That's why we need to take extra time to look at the scalp during full-skin examinations," she said. This view was reinforced by Dr Alison Ross, Cancer Research UK's science information officer, who said: "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. And this study is a good reminder for people to check in places that are hard to reach, like the scalp and neck. "Cancer Research UK advises that people report any changes in size, shape or colour of a mole, freckle or a normal patch of skin that happen over weeks or months promptly to their GP. Those most at risk of skin cancer are people with fair skin, lots of moles or freckles or a family history of the disease." Researchers found that the five-year survival rate for scalp or neck melanoma patients was 83 per cent, compared to 92 per cent for patients with melanomas in other areas.