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Cancer

17 October 2019

Skin cancer on the neck ‘more likely to spread’, study finds

Malignant melanoma on the neck may spread faster. But what exactly does this mean, and what can you do to reduce your risk?

Malignant melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. According to the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ), melanoma is an aggressive skin cancer and has a poor survival rate when diagnosed late. 

Now, results from a new, descriptive, six-month clinical study suggest that malignant melanoma (MM) that develops on the neck has a higher chance of spreading beyond the skin compared with MM that develops below the neck.

The findings were presented at the 28th EADV Congress in Madrid, Spain earlier this month.

The study

The study recruited 45 patients with new diagnoses of MM to be investigated over a period of six months. They were divided into two groups of patients: above neck MM and below neck MM. Researchers aimed to discover which types of MM were more likely to metastasise (spread) in terms of their location on the body.

Computer tomography (CT) staging was used to determine the existence and spread of the cancer. Results indicated the following:

  • Out of the 37 below neck MM patients, none had distant metastases.
  • Of this group, only one had positive nodes (2.7%).
  • Out of the eight above neck MM patients, two had positive nodes and distant metastases (25%).

Even though significantly more of the study’s patients had below neck MM tumours at an advanced disease stage, none of them were found to have distant metastases, in which MM spreads to other distant parts of the body. More than this, only one of these below neck MM patients was diagnosed with positive lymph nodes.

The study therefore showed that above neck MM has a higher chance of spreading beyond the skin in comparison with below neck MM.

But what does this mean?

Not only is MM the most dangerous form of skin cancer, but it is also becoming progressively more common, especially in younger populations. While the other two major forms of skin cancers – basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) – rarely spread from outside the surface of the skin, the ability of the melanoma to metastasise makes it the most deadly, and once it has spread deeper into the skin or other parts of the body, it becomes more and more difficult to treat and can be deadly. 

Although we still have a long way to go to eradicate melanoma cancer or completely cure patients, this study is a huge step forward in providing insight into this type of cancer.

"Understanding more about these locations may help to determine and manage a patient's survival," explained Dr Mohammed Al Abadie, lead researcher of the study, who presented the results at the EADV conference.

Taking better care of your skin

The skin is the body’s largest organ, and is directly exposed to external influences. In order to better protect it, the emphasis should be on prevention. The good news is most skin cancer can be avoided by following safe sun guidelines. Take care of your skin with the following tips: 

  • Apply sunscreen liberally, and during all seasons
  • Sun protective clothing is one way to be safe, where protection levels range from UPF15, all the way to 50+.
  • Avoid the sun in the middle of the day – seek the shade between 10AM and 4PM.
  • Examine your skin from head-to-toe every month. Learn how to perform a self-exam here.

Remember, skin care and protection is essential for all age groups. 

Image: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Cancer expert

CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst. For more information, visit cansa.org.za.

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