Skin cancer increases risk

Here’s some very important news for anyone with sun-damaged skin.

In last Wednesday’s e-alert “Skin Deep” (11/19/03), I told you about the use of natural glycoalkaloids in the exfoliation of sun-damaged skin that can often lead to the types of skin cancer known as basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer.

Basal and squamous cancers – or non-melanoma cancers – are highly treatable and rarely fatal. But a new report from the Women’s Health Initiative brings some alarming news about other risks involved with these cancers.

In an examination of medical records of more than 93,000 postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79, almost 25 percent of the women who had non-melanoma skin cancers later developed other types of cancers. This statistic is in sharp contrast to women who never had skin cancer; in that group less than 12 percent developed other cancers.

Even more sobering was the breakdown of the statistics into other categories, such as race. While Caucasian women with skin cancer were about two and a half times more likely to develop other cancers compared to women with no skin cancer history, black women with skin cancer were found to have 7.5 times higher risk of developing other cancers.

The Women’s Health Initiative doesn’t include men, of course, but the authors of the study note that some research indicates that this higher risk of other cancers is just as much of a concern with men who have skin cancer.

In the past, most doctors have assured their patients that non-melanoma skin cancers are of relatively minor concern. Obviously, it’s time to revise that thinking. Basal and squamous cancers are apparently not terribly dangerous in and of themselves, but now it seems that non-melanoma cancers should be considered a red flag signaling the need to be on guard for the warning signs of other cancers.

“People with Skin Cancer at Higher Risk for Other Types” Jim Ritter, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/17/03,