If you’ve had breast cancer,
you have a higher risk of developing melanoma

This year, an estimated 300,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and those women will have up to a 2.5 times greater risk of developing melanoma. Having the BRCA2 gene also substantially increases the risk of melanoma. And the increased risk of developing a second cancer is reciprocal. Women who have or have had melanoma have a 1.4 greater chance of developing breast cancer. 

Women who have, or have had breast cancer should take extra preventive and early detection measures. 

Annual Total-Body Skin Cancer Exams save lives! Schedule yours today and every time you book your mammogram.


What Can We Do?

Both breast cancer and melanoma survivors should be vigilant and take extra preventive and early detection measures to reduce their risk of developing a second cancer.

Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and minimizing alcohol intake can help reduce breast cancer risk. To detect breast cancer early, women over 40 should get yearly mammograms and all women should conduct monthly breast self exams.

If you think you are a candidate for BRCA2 or CDKN2A gene testing based on family or personal history, consider talking to your doctor or genetic counselor. The BRCA2 gene substantially increases a breast cancer survivor’s risk of melanoma and the CDKN2A gene increases a melanoma survivor’s risk of breast cancer. This additional information can help you and your doctor create a better early detection strategy for both cancers.

Gene research is still new and quickly changing. As we learn more about new hereditary genes, cancer-related gene risk factors, and the complex relationship between primary and secondary cancers, we hope to better understand the link between melanoma and breast cancer.

See Something Suspicious? Check it Out.

Moles or other growths that are asymmetric, have irregular borders, vary in color, are larger than a pencil eraser, or those that are changing in size or shape, bleeding or itching should be checked by a dermatology specialist.

The ABCDEs of Melanoma

 A is for Asymmetry    B is for Border Irregularity     C is for Color    D is for Diameter     E is for Evolving 

What Does Sun Exposure Have to Do with Breast Cancer?

Melanoma risks can be reduced by avoiding tanning beds and excessive sun exposure. If you plan to be in the sun or in reflective areas (water or snow), cover up with a hat and dark, dry, tightly-woven clothing. Special UPF-rated clothing, clothing which protects against UV rays, is also available. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays will help protect the eyes and delicate skin around the eyes. For exposed skin, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF30 or above that blocks UVA/UVB. Apply sunscreen frequently and liberally and follow the product’s instructions.

Talk to your doctor about getting a skin exam and do a skin self exam on a regular basis. These check-ups can help you learn what is normal for your skin, what is changing, and what may need a closer look. Remember, while cancer may be scary, knowledge is power, and by learning more about your body and your risk factors, you can take control of your health and reduce your risks.

Fighting Skin Cancer With Everything We've Got

... and we've got a lot. When caught early and treated properly, skin cancers are highly curable.

If skin cancer is detected, we offer some of the most advanced skin cancer treatments available including Mohs micrographic surgery, photodynamic therapy and other treatment options specific to the type of cancer and the needs of the patient.

Sources and References

Archives of Dermatology: Arch Dermatol. 2011;147(12):1395 1402. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2011.1133. Geoffrey B. Yang, BS; Jill S. Barnholdtz Sloan, PhD; Yanwen Chen, PhD; et al)

Published in 2011, this study included 70,819 patients with cutaneous melanoma (CM) as a first primary cancer and 6,353 patients with CM following a previous cancer. In analyzing instances of melanoma as a second cancer, researchers found a similar increase in risk levels for other cancers: melanoma survivors younger than 45 years old had a 1.38 relative risk of breast cancer as a second cancer. Melanoma patients 45 years and older had a 1.12% increase in the relative risk for being diagnosed with breast cancer.

International Journal of Cancer: 2004 Sep 20;111(5):792 4. Association between female breast cancer and cutaneous melanoma. Goggins W, Gao W, Tsao H)

Results of this 2004 study indicated female breast cancer survivors were 16% more likely to develop cutaneous melanoma than women who have not had breast cancer. And female melanoma survivors had an 11% increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer as second cancers. More strikingly:

"Among young [breast cancer] patients, we observed a 46% elevated risk of a second [cutaneous melanoma]. Women who underwent radiation therapy exhibited a 42% increased risk for [cutaneous melanoma].”

The study also found that patients with a mutated BRCA2 gene, which increases risk for developing breast cancer, and those with a mutation on the melanoma susceptibility gene, CDKN2A, are both more likely to develop the other cancer  compared to those without these gene mutations.



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