Another Benefit of Marriage?

At a recent meeting for Mohs Surgery that I attended, I heard many great lectures and presentations from experts on the treatment of skin cancer. I found the material presented to be informative, research based, and interesting. What piqued my interest even more, however, were the more casual discussions that I had with colleagues and the more theoretical issues that presented themselves. 

For instance, recent research shows that there may be a new unrealized benefit of marriage.  Married people who are diagnosed with melanoma, get a diagnosis at an earlier stage than people who are not married.  Since their diagnosis is at an earlier stage, married people, therefore, have earlier treatment of their melanoma compared to unmarried people.  This may be due to obvious reasons since a spouse will spot a potential skin cancer on his/her partner and recommend evaluation by a dermatologist, compared to unmarried people who may not have someone to point out a suspicious looking lesion. 

Anecdotally, I frequently witness this in my office. If I ask a male patient why he is in for a visit, he often answers with, “my wife made me come.” In general, this is of note because it may influence dermatologists to recommend more frequent skin examinations for single people.  This could be especially important for widowed or divorced patients.

Another commonality brought up at the meeting was the diagnosis of melanoma in married couples. With a show of hands in the lecture hall, it was clear the majority of dermatologists in attendance had diagnosed many melanomas in both husbands and wives, simultaneously. I have always attributed this to the fact that married couples often share similar lifestyles. They may enjoy the same outdoor activities such as sunbathing, golfing, cruising, or going to the beach, and excessive sun exposure can lead to the development of melanoma.

One dermatologist, however, had a different theory and suggested the idea that maybe there is a virus that is spread between couples that may contribute to the development of melanoma. That is, maybe there is a contagious nature to melanoma.  The idea that a virus could contribute to cancer is not completely foreign.  HPV, human papilloma virus, which is the virus that causes warts, can also cause certain forms of cancer, such as cervical cancer.

To be clear . . . there is no scientific evidence for melanoma being caused by a virus.  This was simply a thought provoking idea, and I still believe that sun exposure is a more plausible reason we see so many melanomas in spouses. 

Bottomline: Keep up with your routine skin checks, tell your spouse to keep up with his/hers too, and remind your single friends to do the same.

Jordan Schwartzberg