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Malignant melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. Female sex is known to have a protective effect on incidence, tumour characteristics, and mortality from melanoma. However, the potentially modifying effect of sex on the prognostic significance of clinicopathological and investigative factors is generally not taken into consideration in biomarker studies. In this study, we compared the sex-specific distribution and prognostic value of established tumour characteristics and Ki67 expression in 255 cases of incident primary melanoma in a prospective, population-based cohort study.
The study included 255 incident cases of melanoma, 132 females and 123 males, in the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study. Tumours from 226 (88.6%) cases had been assembled in tissue microarrays. Clinicopathological factors and immunohistochemical Ki67 expression were assessed and correlated with disease-free survival (DFS) and overall survival (OS) using Kaplan-Meier analysis, log rank test and univariable and multivariable Cox regression analyses, stratified for gender. Effect of gender on melanoma-specific survival (MSS) after first recurrence was also analysed.
Women were significantly younger at diagnosis than men (p=0.012). The most common tumour sites were the legs in women (37.5%) and the dorsal trunk in men (37.8%). Kaplan-Meier analysis revealed that tumour location had no prognostic impact in women, but in men, location to the frontal trunk was significantly associated with a reduced DFS compared with all other locations combined and location to the dorsal trunk was significantly associated with a prolonged OS. High Ki67 expression was significantly associated with a reduced DFS and OS in men but not in women, also when adjusted for other factors. In men, but not in women, ulceration was an independent prognostic factor for both DFS and OS. MSS after first local, regional or distant recurrence was significantly shorter for men than for women.
The results from this study demonstrate that the prognostic value of tumour location, Ki67 expression and ulceration in melanoma differs according to gender. These findings need to be validated in future studies, as they may help improve prognostication in patients with melanoma. Moreover, our findings demonstrate that sex-stratified analyses add valuable information to biomarker studies.