Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson Says Physician’s ‘Vigilance’ Led to Melanoma Diagnosis

Sarah Ferguson is seen here walking outside.
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  • Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, announced she has been diagnosed with malignant melanoma. 
  • Ferguson’s melanoma diagnosis is the second time the former royal family member has been diagnosed with cancer in the past year. 
  • Last summer, she underwent a mastectomy after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis.
  • Breast cancer may also increase a person’s risk for melanoma.
  • As with many forms of cancer, melanoma is often treatable when detected early.

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

In an announcement on Instagram, the 64-year-old former royal family member said she’d been taking some time to herself since being diagnosed with malignant melanoma.

Ferguson, widely known as “Fergie,” said the diagnosis came as a “shock” since it is 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 is key to increasing 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. 

What causes melanoma

Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that can spread quickly to other parts of the body and can be 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 melanoma, but melanoma can also affect people with darker skin tones. Sun protection, regardless of skin tone, is key to prevention.

Dr. Trevan Fischer, surgical oncologist and assistant professor of surgical oncology for Saint’s 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 melanoma 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. 

Who is most at risk for developing melanoma and why?

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

Fischer explained that people who have lighter skin tones and tend to burn 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 for developing melanoma.

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.

What’s the link between melanoma and breast cancer?

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

Is melanoma treatable when detected early? 

Early detection, as with most cancers, is key to successful treatment. In most cases, early-stage melanoma may only require surgery at the site and follow-up appointments with your doctor.

When melanoma is detected early it is unlikely the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. 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 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 have 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 explained, but experts say 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, shared on Instagram that she had been diagnosed with melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. 

Ferguson’s melanoma 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 to successful treatment.

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