Can a person have two different types of cancer?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Is it possible for a person to have two different types of cancer at once? E.g. a melanoma and then another area such as a kidney?

Expert Answer

Andrew Putnam, M.D. is a Palliative Care physician at Smilow Cancer Center at Yale New Haven Hospital and Yale University.

Yes it is possible. Cancer is a general word and cancers of different parts of the body are different. It is very possible for different types of cancer to arise in different parts of the body at different times or even possibly at the same time. Melanoma arises from sun exposure and can develop at any time but usually as one gets older as the effects of the sun's rays continues to accumulate over time. Some types of kidney cancer can occur in children while others are more likely in adults. Any individual can develop 2 or even more cancers over time.

At times a single cancer will spread to different parts of the body and so then a single type of cancer occurs in different parts of the body at the same time. That is referred as "kidney cancer that spread to the bone" or "spread to the liver" and not as liver cancer which would be a different type of cancer.