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Partner Bereavement and skin cancer diagnosis

How much do we rely on partners to spot medical problems, and how important is this in prognosis?

Psychological stress has been proposed as a risk factor for melanoma, but clinical evidence is limited.

It is reasonable to consider that any kind of stress will affect the bodies defences, such as the immune system.  The stress of illness in a  partner or a close relative has its toll, and then there is the impact of loss if they die. 



A recent British Journal of Dermatology study funded by the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology looked for a potential link between the death of a partner, which is one of the most stressful life events, and melanoma.

The research was carried out by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark.

The result was rather curious.

In the study, which included information from the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink and Danish nationwide registries, investigators found that partner bereavement was linked with a decreased risk of being diagnosed with melanoma, but with an increased risk of dying after being diagnosed.

The authors of the study consider two possibilities.   Whilst it could be due to the stress of losing a loved one, it might also be that they no longer have a partner to help spot possible skin problems and this delays diagnosis.  As the lead author, Dr Sinead Langan explains.

“The study findings are interesting and may relate to bereaved people no longer having someone to help with skin examinations, leading to delays in diagnosis, although we cannot rule out stress being important in melanoma progression.”
The findings indicate it would be beneficial to have a lower threshold for skin examination in individuals whose partners have died.



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