Common Types of Skin Cancer Raise Risk for Subsequent Primary Cancers

skin mole on back - doctor examining patient

Individuals with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) have an increased risk of subsequent primary cancers, according to a study published in the March issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

The Evidence: Eugene Liat Hui Ong, BMBCh, from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, and colleagues used data from an all-England record-linked hospital and mortality dataset from 1999 to 2011 to examine the risk of primary malignant cancers in individuals with a history of NMSC.

Two cohorts were constructed: one including 502,490 people with a history of NMSC and a second that included people without a history of NMSC. The cohorts were followed electronically to ascertain the observed and expected numbers of people with subsequent primary cancers. The researchers found that the standardized relative risk for all subsequent malignant cancers was 1.36 for the NMSC cohort versus the non-NMSC cohort.

Results: For 26 of the 29 cancer types studied, the relative risks were significantly increased (P < 0.05), in particular for salivary gland, melanoma, bone, and upper gastrointestinal tract cancers. Younger people with versus those without NMSC had particularly high relative risks.

“NMSC is strongly associated with a broad spectrum of other primary cancers, particularly in younger age groups,” the researchers wrote. “The pattern suggests a genetic or early-acquired etiologic association.”

My Take: I am not sure this data is yet actionable. Still, it reminds me of two things: 1) Protect yourself against excessive sun exposure; 2) If you have a history of skin cancer, do the recommend cancer screening, don’t drink to excess, and don’t use tobacco! I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.


  1. Ong ELH, Goldacre R, Hoang U, et al. Subsequent Primary Malignancies in Patients with Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer in England: A National Record-Linkage Study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2014; 23(3):490-498.

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

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