Losing Partner May Increase Risk Of Death From Skin Cancer (Photo Credit: Pexels.com)
People who experience the loss of a partner face an increased risk of dying from skin cancer, and are less likely to be diagnosed with malignant disease, according to a study which may lead to new interventions to detect melanoma early. The researchers, including those from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the UK, assessed whether bereaved individuals had a higher risk of being diagnosed with, or dying from, melanoma than the non-bereaved.
In the study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, they used data from two large population-based studies between 1997 and 2017 in the UK and Denmark. They found that melanoma patients who experienced bereavement had a 17 per cent higher risk of dying from the disease compared with those who were not bereaved.
Those who had lost a partner were 12 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with melanoma compared with non-bereaved persons, according to the study. The scientists noted that 620 and 1667 bereaved were diagnosed in the UK and Denmark respectively over the 20 year period, compared with 6430 and 16,166 non-bereaved.
While earlier research has suggested a link between various types of stress and progression of melanoma, the scientists said an alternative explanation could be that bereaved people no longer have a close person to help notice skin changes. They said this might delay the detection of a possible abnormal growth on the skin, and therefore diagnosis, until the cancer has progressed to later stages, when it is generally more aggressive and harder to treat.
The study noted that the survival rate of melanoma patients is relatively high, depending on what stage the cancer is at detection. Early detection and treatment are crucial for improving survival, the scientists said.
"Many factors can influence melanoma survival. Our work suggests that melanoma may take longer to detect in bereaved people, potentially because partners play an important role in spotting early signs of skin cancer," said Angel Wong, lead author of the study from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
"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," Wong said.
The scientists however noted that the study had a few limitations, including the lack of information on some risk factors of melanoma, such as sun exposure, or family history.