Men living alone have a higher risk of dying from skin cancer, according to a new Swedish study that may improve global health strategies by highlighting previously overlooked risk groups for the devastating disease.  

Cutaneous malignant melanoma is one of our most aggressive skin cancers, and one of the fastest growing cancers among white populations. The new findings show that, within this group, single males may be the worst off. "We were able to show that living alone among men is significantly associated with a reduced melanoma-specific survival, partially attributed to a more advanced stage at diagnosis,” Dr. Hanna Eriksson, a researcher at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm and lead author of the new study, said in a press release.

“Our study shows that this applies to men of all ages, regardless of their level of education and place of residence," she added.

The study, which is published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, used data from all cutaneous malignant melanoma diagnoses in Sweden between 1990 and 2007. The researchers then examined mortality rates in relation to cohabitation status at the time of diagnosis.

After controlling for factors like educational level, tumor characteristics, and tumor site, the findings persisted: Men living alone had a significantly decreased survival rate compared to women or men living with partners. Eriksson and colleagues also found that older women living alone tend to have more advanced tumors at the time of diagnosis.

“This points to a need for targeted interventions for earlier detection of cutaneous malignant melanoma in men and older individuals since this is critical for surviving the disease,” Eriksson explained. “By way of example, procedures are needed for skin examinations of these patients in connection with other doctor visits or check-ups.”

The study dovetails with a paper published earlier this year, in which researchers from the University of Chicago showed that people living alone have a 14 percent higher chance of dying early from any cause compared to people living with partners.

According to the National Institutes of Health, melanoma is currently the leading cause of death from skin disease. In the U.S. alone, upward of 76,000 people are diagnosed with the disease annually. Each year, almost 10,000 patients die. However, if caught early, the prognosis is often positive. Health officials recommend that individuals concerned about a new mole use the “ABCDE”-method to make a preliminary assessment:

  • Asymmetry: The shape of one half does not match the other
  • Border: The edges are ragged, blurred, or irregular
  • Color: The color is uneven and may include shades of black, brown, and tan
  • Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase
  • Evolving: The mole has changed over the past few weeks or months

 

Source: Eriksson H, Lyth J, Mansson-Brahme E, et al. Later Stage at Diagnosis and Worse Survival in Cutaneous Malignant Melanoma Among Men Living Alone: A Nationwide Population-Based Study From Sweden. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2014.