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August 2014

Prostate Cancer and Melanoma: Is There a Connection?

Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, may seem to have little in common with prostate cancer. But a recent study suggests otherwise. Prostate cancer may actually raise a man's risk for melanoma.

A possible link?

Nurse checking mole on man's neck

In the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers set out to see if there was a link between prostate cancer and melanoma. They wanted to confirm the findings of past studies. To do so, they looked at the health of more than 60,000 men. Study participants ranged in age from 40 to 84.

Over an average of 14 years, the men responded to periodic questionnaires. They answered questions about their medical history and lifestyle. They were also asked if they had been diagnosed with any type of cancer.

The researchers reviewed the men's responses. After taking into account other factors such as body weight and sun exposure, they still noted a strong link between prostate cancer and melanoma. Namely, men who had prostate cancer in the past had a higher risk of developing melanoma later on. They didn't find the same connection with that type of skin cancer and other cancers.

A common origin?

Experts can't say for sure that prostate cancer causes melanoma. But they do suspect the 2 cancers share a common origin. One theory points to androgens.

Androgens are male hormones. The most well-known is testosterone. Androgens help the prostate—a gland that produces semen—to work as it should. But when levels become too high, they may cause prostate cancer to grow. In fact, doctors sometimes treat cancer in the prostate by limiting how much androgen the body makes. It's called hormone therapy.

Past research has shown that melanoma may also be linked to androgen levels. A high amount of these hormones may affect a man's immune system. That, in turn, may allow cancer to attack the skin's melanocytes. These cells govern the color of your skin.

Another possible reason for the link: age. Older men are more likely to get both types of cancer. Why? Prostate cancer usually grows slowly. It often isn't diagnosed until later in life. As for melanoma, it tends to strike people whose skin has been exposed to the sun for a longer period of time.

  

 

A Quick Guide to Preventing Melanoma and Prostate Cancer

Scientists can’t predict who will develop cancer. But you can do a few things to lower your chances for the disease. Below is a quick guide to preventing prostate cancer and melanoma.

Prostate cancer

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight may raise your risk. 

  • Eat your veggies. Add more foods like broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, and soybeans to your diet.

  • Stay active. Regular physical activity may protect you from many types of cancer, including that of the prostate.

Melanoma

  • Slather on the sunscreen. Use brands that are labeled broad-spectrum. They protect against both types of ultraviolet (UV) rays—UVA and UVB.

  • Limit sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is strongest. When outside, try to stay in the shade.

  • Avoid indoor tanning. Artificial sources of UV rays can be just as damaging to your skin.

 

Regularly checking your skin can alert you to any signs of skin cancer. Learn how to do a skin self-exam.

 

Online resources

American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute