Melanoma, Stigma, and Mental Health

March 15, 2019

Last week the RTI headed down to our nation’s capital for the 40th Annual Meeting and Scientific Sessions of the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM). The 2019 SBM Annual Meeting was a dynamic, multi-disciplinary meeting during which clinicians, statisticians, and behavioral researchers gathered to discuss the role of behavior in improving health. Our Senior Director of Research, Alexandra Zaleta, and Research Manager, Shauna McManus, attended and presented a poster on the first day of the conference highlighting research findings from the Cancer Experience Registry.

Our research, The Psychosocial Impact of Melanoma-Related Stigma: Findings from the Cancer Experience Registry,” examines melanoma survivors’ experiences with stigma and how these feelings of stigma are related to risk for depression and anxiety.

Sun exposure is just one risk factor for melanoma, and some melanomas can develop in areas of the body that don’t get much exposure to sunlight. However, since the perception is that sun exposure can be controlled, many survivors report feeling guilty about developing melanoma. Research in this area is particularly important given that feeling distressed and stigmatized can affect healthy behaviors and health care use.

Our results show that melanoma survivors who were less satisfied with their body image and appearance were more likely to be at risk for clinically significant levels of anxiety and depression. Additionally, survivors who believed they were responsible for developing melanoma, or believed that others in their lives blamed them for developing melanoma, were also more likely to be at risk for clinically significant depression.

Given these findings, we encourage providers to discuss patients’ initial and continuing concerns about the causes of their melanoma and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle after treatment. We are committed to providing melanoma survivors with supportive resources that cover a range of topics relevant to their diagnosis, including our landmark Frankly Speaking About Cancer® series. It is also important to support survivors about their concerns with the cosmetic implications of disease and treatment. To this end, we recently announced the launch of our Feel More Like You™ campaign with Walgreens. Feel More Like You™, a no-cost service that features pharmacists and beauty consultants, is designed to help people better manage internal and visible side effects, including skin discolorations and sunlight sensitivities, from cancer treatment.

Share Your Experience

At the Cancer Support Community, innovative patient-focused research is at the heart of what we do. We can’t accomplish this without insight from patients, and that is why we ask patients, survivors, and caregivers of all cancer diagnoses to share their stories by participating in the Cancer Experience Registry®, a free, confidential survey that is open to anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer or provides care to someone with cancer.