Individuals who experience the loss of a partner are less likely to be diagnosed with melanoma—but face an increased risk of dying from the disease, according to research published by Wong et al in the British Journal of Dermatology.
While previous studies have suggested a link between various types of stress and progression of melanoma, which may have played a role in the finding, the researchers suggest that an alternative explanation could be that bereaved people no longer have a close person to help notice skin changes.
Researchers sought to investigate whether bereaved individuals had a higher risk of being diagnosed with, or dying from, melanoma than the nonbereaved. They used data from two large population-based studies conducted between 1997 and 2017 in the United Kingdom and Denmark.
The team found that patients with melanoma who had also experienced bereavement had a 17% higher risk of dying from their melanoma compared with those who were not bereaved, with similar results seen in both the United Kingdom and Denmark.
They also found that those who had lost a partner were 12% less likely to be diagnosed with melanoma compared with nonbereaved people, with 620 and 1,667 bereaved diagnosed in the United Kingdom and Denmark respectively over the 20-year period, compared with 6,430 and 16,166 nonbereaved people.
Lead study author Angel Wong, PhD, a research fellow at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, 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. 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.”
The study authors also acknowledged the study's limitations, including the lack of information on some risk factors of melanoma, such as sun exposure or family history, but consider that this had limited impact on the conclusions drawn from this study.
They concluded, “We found decreased risk of melanoma diagnosis, but increased mortality associated with partner bereavement. These findings may be partly explained by delayed detection resulting from the loss of a partner who could notice skin changes. Stress may play a role in melanoma progression. Our findings indicate the need for a low threshold for skin examination in individuals whose partners have died.”
Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit onlinelibrary.wiley.com.The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.