Spot cancer early - know your body
Is Skin Cancer A Gateway Cancer?
The claim: Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), are two of the most common forms of non-melanoma skin cancers, affecting more than 3 million Americans annually. And while they're easy to treat and rarely fatal, there’s another risk involved: Non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSCs) found at a young age significantly raise your risk of developing other cancers later in life, according to a new study published inCancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention.
The research: UK researchers compared data of people with a history of NMSCs to those with no history. At the end of a 5- to 6-year follow up, 67,148 out of 502,000 people who had a history of NMSC had developed another cancer, while just 863,441 out of 8 million people without a history of NMSC did. When the researchers did the math, the results were staggering: “Everyone who has had an NMSC has a 30% increased risk of developing cancer in the future,” says lead author Rodney Sinclair, director of dermatology at Epworth Healthcare in the UK. “And the younger you are when you develop it, the greater the future risk for developing other cancers.”
According the the study, if you’re diagnosed with a NMSC between the ages of 45 to 59, your risk for any other type of cancer—not just another NMSC—goes up 74%. And if one is found under age 25, your risk is roughly 250%. “By way of comparison, the risk for 25-year-olds is of the same order of magnitude seen for lung cancer after smoking a pack of cigarettes every day for 50 years,” says Sinclair.
What it means: Sinclair says sunlight suppresses the skin’s immunity and allows the mechanisms that regulate cell growth and immunity to be disrupted or fail. “Disruption of one of these shared molecular pathways may lead to multiple cancers in different organs," Sinclair says. Most skin cancer news is about melanoma—the most fatal type that represents just 3% of all skin cancers, according to Sinclair. With such a strong connection between NMSCs and other cancers, he hopes the recognition of NMSCs as a cancer predictor will influence more targeted cancer screenings.
The bottom line: While NMSCs are less fatal than melanoma, they put you at risk for future cancers. Talk to your dermatologist about the best cancer-screening regimen for you.
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