According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year between 2004 to 2006, over 45,000 cases of melanoma were reported in 45 states and the District of Columbia. In the U.S. skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer. Although melanoma is the third most prevalent type of skin cancer, it is more dangerous than other skin cancers, and is the leading cause of death from skin disease killing approximately 8,000 individuals each year as well as costing the country billions.

Published online today, the study “Melanoma Surveillance in the United States,” will appear in the November 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. The supplement was developed together with the American Academy of Dermatology, the largest dermatology group in the country.

Marcus Plescia, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, explained:

“Melanoma is a devastating disease that takes an economic toll on individuals, their families, and society in terms of premature death and lost productivity. New policies and prevention strategies are needed to address the leading preventable causes of melanoma, enabling people to be healthier, live longer, and continue to be productive.”

Melanoma is caused by cells called melanocytes changing. These cells produce a skin pigment called melanin which give skin its color. Melanoma is less prevalent than other types of skin cancer, however, the rate of the disease has been increasing steadily.

It is crucial that individuals find and treat melanoma as well as any other type of skin cancer early. Melanoma can spread rapidly to surrounding skin, causing scarring, disfigurement, and loss of function in some areas of the body, and even death if left untreated.

The journal’s supplement contains 15 articles that address melanoma surveillance, trends, and survival rates. A large number of these studies obtained data from the CDC’s National Program of Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance as well as data from the Epidemiology and End Results Program. To date, this research covers the largest percentage of U.S. individuals in history.

Considerable discoveries from the reports included in the supplement:

  • An investigation led by Donatus Ekwueme, Ph.D., CDC, revealed that melanoma deaths cost the U.S. $3.5 billion dollars each year for lost productivity. Male deaths accounted for $2.4bn of lost productivity (a mean of $441,903 per man), and deaths among women accounted for $1.2bn (a mean of $401,046 per woman). In addition the investigation discovered that individuals who died of the disease between the years 2000 and 2006, died two decades prematurely in comparison to 17 years from other cancers.
  • Xiao-Cheng Wu, M. D., M.P.H., New Orleans School of Public Health, led an investigation that analyzed racial and ethnic variations in melanoma prevalence and survival. The study discovered that melanoma rater were higher in Hispanic women under the age of 50, white women under the age of 50, and Asian Pacific Islander women under the age of 40, in comparison to males. In addition, Wu and her team discovered that American Indian/Alaska Natives, Asians, and Hispanics were diagnosed with the disease at younger ages compared to white or black individuals.
  • Hannah Weir, Ph.D., CDC, analyzed the disease in adolescents and young adults. She found that the prevalence was higher among females than males, risks of the disease increased with age, and was higher in non-Hispanic whites in comparison to blacks, Hispanic whites, Asian, American Indian/Alaska natives, and Pacific Islanders.
  • According to an investigation led by David Buller, Ph.D., Klein Buendel, Inc., which analyzed the prevalence of sunburn, indoor tanning behaviors and sun protection, 34% of adults had been sunburned in 2005, and in 2004, 69% of adolescents had been sunburned the previous summer.
  • An investigation led by Todd Cartee, M.D., Emory University, surveyed a small group of dermatologists and discovered that several were unaware of reporting requirements, even though by law, physicians are required report melanomas to central cancer registries.

In order for individuals to be protected from skin cancer, the CDC recommend that people should:

  • Stay in the shade, especially between the hours 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the sun is at its strongest.
  • Protect skin by wearing long-sleeve shirts, long skirts, pants and by wearing hats.
  • Apply a large amount of sunscreen to all exposed areas, including feet and ears with a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVA light.
  • Use sunscreen even in the winter.
  • Avoid tanning, salons, tanning beds, and sun lamps.
  • Use a waterproof sunscreen
  • Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes prior to going outdoors.
  • Apple sunscreens that have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15+

Written by Grace Rattue