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Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, announced she’d been recently diagnosed with malignant melanoma and is recovering from treatment. Stephen Pond/Getty Images
  • Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, announced she has been diagnosed with malignant melanoma.
  • The former royal family member’s skin cancer diagnosis follows a recent breast cancer diagnosis.
  • Ferguson’s melanoma was detected early during reconstructive surgery from a mastectomy.
  • Breast cancer may increase a person’s risk for melanoma, but as with many forms of cancer, early detection is key to successful treatment.

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York and ex-wife of Prince Andrew, announced on Monday she has malignant melanoma, a serious and aggressive form of skin cancer.

In an Instagram post, the 64-year-old former royal family member said she’d been taking some time to herself since her skin cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Ferguson, widely known as “Fergie,” said the melanoma diagnosis came as a “shock” since it was the second cancer diagnosis she’d received in the past year.

Ferguson underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery last summer after being diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine mammogram screening. A breast cancer diagnosis may also increase a person’s risk of melanoma.

A spokesperson for Ferguson told CNN the malignant melanoma was discovered during reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy. Several moles were removed, one of which was identified as cancerous. Ferguson promptly received treatment and is at home recovering and “in good spirits,” she shared in the post.

As with many forms of cancer, early detection of melanoma may increase a person’s chance of survival.

“It was thanks to the great vigilance of my dermatologist that the melanoma was detected when it was,” Ferguson wrote.

“I believe my experience underlines the importance of checking the size, shape, colour and texture and emergence of new moles that can be a sign of melanoma and urge anyone who is reading this to be diligent,” Ferguson shared.

Ferguson’s melanoma announcement is the latest in a recent wave of royal family health news. Last week, Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales, had a scheduled abdominal surgery, and King Charles III is being treated for an enlarged prostate.

Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that can spread quickly to other parts of the body and become deadly.

Melanoma develops in the skin cells responsible for giving the skin its color or pigmentation, also known as melanin. Melanoma may develop from an existing mole or manifest as a new growth resembling a mole.

In most cases, melanoma is caused by UV exposure from sunlight. Fair-skinned people are often more susceptible to skin cancer, but melanoma may also affect people with darker skin tones. Sun protection, regardless of skin tone, is essential for prevention.

Dr. Trevan Fischer, surgical oncologist and assistant professor of surgical oncology for Saint John’s Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, told Healthline that in rare cases, genetic factors may increase a person’s skin cancer risk. These include:

“While most melanoma is due to sun damage, there are some congenital or genetic markers that can predispose you to having melanoma,” he explained.

The biggest risk factor for developing skin cancer is skin tone and UV damage from the sun.

Fischer explained that people who have lighter skin tones and tend to burn easily, and have had chronic sun exposure are at the highest risk of developing melanoma. Hair and eye color may also factor into a person’s risk of developing skin cancer.

Melanoma most frequently presents on the face, arms, and other extremities, but Fischer explained the disease may appear anywhere on the body, including areas that do not get exposed to sunlight.

Breast cancer may increase a person’s melanoma risk, which may have been possible in Ferguson’s case, though a direct link has not been established.

Fischer explained that people who have a BRCA mutation, a known genetic mutation that increases breast and ovarian cancer risk, may have an increased risk of developing melanoma.

He said other schools of thought believe that undergoing treatment for breast cancer may weaken the body’s immune system and make cells more susceptible to skin cancer.

As with other forms of cancer, early detection of skin cancer can be crucial for successful treatment.

In most cases, early-stage melanoma may only require surgery at the site and follow-up appointments with your doctor, Fischer explained.

When melanoma is detected early, it is unlikely the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, Fischer noted. When melanoma spreads to the lymph nodes, it may require treatment, including immune therapy and other medications.

In severe cases of late-stage melanoma, radiation therapy may be required.

Early detection also reduces the risk of melanoma recurrence. Fischer said it’s more likely a person who’s had melanoma could develop a new case of melanoma rather than a recurrence of the original melanoma that was treated.

People at high risk for melanoma, such as those with lighter skin tones, should be screened at least once yearly by a dermatologist, who will conduct a full body scan.

At this time, there are no official recommendations for skin cancer screening, Fischer said, adding that most adults should begin annual screenings in their 30s and 40s, though this recommendation may vary depending on an individual’s circumstances.

“I always see my patients twice a year,” Fischer said. “And then I had them see the dermatologist twice a year for the first several years after [a skin cancer] diagnosis because we’re looking to catch something even at an earlier stage.”

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York and former royal family member, announced that she’d been recently diagnosed with malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer.

Ferguson’s skin cancer diagnosis is the second time she’s been diagnosed with cancer in the past year. Ferguson’s doctors discovered a cancerous mole while she was undergoing reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy for breast cancer.

A breast cancer diagnosis may increase a person’s risk for skin cancer. As with any form of cancer, early detection of melanoma is key.