This October marks the 33rd annual National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Jennifer Garrick says an exam for breast cancer exam should go hand-in-hand with a full-body skin exam for possible signs of melanoma. 

Over the past three decades, men, women and children have acquired a greater understanding of this terrible disease. But did you know studies have shown breast cancer patients also have an increased risk of skin cancer – including the deadliest form, melanoma?

In Arizona, we are all mindful of the impact the sun has on our skin. We wear hats and sunblock, search for shade and get annual mole checks. But very few people realize the correlation between breast cancer and skin cancer. Simply put, the diagnosis of one of these cancers significantly increases the risk of the other. While reasons for the association are not completely understood yet, we know there are amplified risk factors that play a role in the connection.

Radiation treatments, hormone changes during therapy, a biological or genetic link, and environmental factors may all play a part in the breast/skin cancer connection.

A study done by the International Journal of Cancer determined that breast cancer survivors were 16 percent more likely to develop melanoma than women who had never had breast cancer. Patients who underwent radiation therapy exhibited a 42 percent increased risk for skin cancer.

Melanoma – the most common and the deadliest form of cancer among women between the ages of 25 and 29 – is on the rise. The National Cancer Institute reports rates for new melanoma cases across the U.S. have risen an average of 1.5 percent each year over the past 10 years. They also estimate there will be 91,270 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in 2018. While these findings are astonishing, they should encourage us all to be advocates for early detection and preventative care of our bodies.

Breast cancer patients should be vigilant in monitoring skin changes and moles with regular self-exams and annual visits to their dermatologist for full-body skin exams. Additionally, women diagnosed with skin cancer, should be diligent about doing monthly self-breast exams, scheduling their annual mammogram and notifying physicians of their complete medical history.

Dermatologists are hopeful that, with increased awareness, women will get into the habit of scheduling a full-body skin exam every time they schedule a mammogram. Although breast and skin cancer are frightening diseases, early detection is the key to a long-term survival rate.

By Jennifer Garrick, FNP-C of Affiliated Dermatology. Featured on page 28 in Gilbert Sun News on October 7, 2018.