U.S. melanoma rate is now double what it was 30 years ago

The incidence of melanoma in the U.S. has doubled in the last 30 years, a new CDC report says

The incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has doubled in the U.S. in the last 30 years and is on track to remain high unless Americans take more precautions to protect themselves from ultraviolet radiation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

CDC researchers tallied a total of 65,647 new cases of melanoma in 2011, according to a Vital Signs study published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. After adjusting for age, that worked out to 19.7 new cases per 100,000 Americans, the study said.

Non-Latino whites had the highest incidence of melanoma by far, with 24.6 cases for every 100,000 people. At the other end of the spectrum were African Americans, with 1 case per 100,000 people, along with Asians and Pacific Islanders, who had 1.3 cases per 100,000 people. Latinos also had a low incidence, with 4.1 diagnoses for every 100,000 people.

Through age 49, women were more likely than men to be diagnosed with melanoma, the report said. This is partially due to the popularity of indoor tanning among younger white women — nearly one-third of white women between 16 and 25 visit a tanning parlor at least once a year, according to a 2013 study in JAMA Internal Medicine.

From age 50 on, however, the incidence was higher in men, who are less likely to use sunscreen or other forms of sun protection, the CDC study said.

A total of 9,128 Americans died as a result of melanoma in 2011, the researchers found. That resulted in an age-adjusted mortality rate of 2.7 deaths per 100,000 Americans. Non-Latino whites accounted for 95% of these deaths, and men accounted for two-thirds of them, according to the report.

The mortality rate due to melanoma remained relatively constant between 1982 and 2011, but the incidence of the disease doubled during that time period, the CDC researchers wrote. They projected that the total number of new melanoma cases would rise to 112,000 by 2030 if present trends continue. That would drive the annual cost of treating newly diagnosed melanoma patients up to $1.6 billion, more than double the $457 million spent in 2011.

But that doesn’t have to happen, the researchers wrote. In the Australian state of Victoria, a comprehensive skin cancer prevention program called SunSmart prevented more than 9,000 cancers and more than 1,000 deaths over a 15-year period, they noted. If a similar program were adopted in the U.S., it could prevent an estimated 230,000 cases of melanoma between 2020 and 2030.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S., and it’s usually the result of exposure to ultraviolet light, the CDC says. The vast majority of skin cancers are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, which are very treatable and rarely spread to other parts of the body. Melanomas account for only 2% of skin cancers, but they are the deadliest kind, according to the National Cancer Institute.

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