Science and better living habits are starting to conquer some types of cancers, but skin cancer seems to be becoming rather prevalent. Mayo Clinic researchers published their study in the April issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, showing that the incidence of melanoma has escalated dramatically, especially amongst young women.

Lead investigator Jerry Brewer, M.D., a Mayo Clinic dermatologist says :

“We anticipated we’d find rising rates, as other studies are suggesting, but we found an even higher incidence than the National Cancer Institute had reported using the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Result database, and in particular, a dramatic rise in women in their 20s and 30s.”

Dr. Brewer goes on to explain how researchers made a population-based study using records from the Rochester Epidemiology Project, which is a database of all patient care in Olmsted County, Minn. That goes back some decades. Looking specifically for first-time diagnoses of melanoma in patients aged 18 to 39 from 1970 to 2009, they found an enormous eightfold increase in melanoma among young women and fourfold among young men. They make note that the lifetime risk of melanoma is greater in males than females, but reversed in young adults and adolescents, where the girls carry more risk.

There is some good news in it all though, because mortality rates have fallen, probably due to better awareness, earlier treatment, and a variety of public awareness campaigns that have made people far more alert to changes in their skin than they might have been 20-30 years ago.

As Dr. Brewer puts it :

“People are now more aware of their skin and of the need to see a doctor when they see changes … As a result, many cases may be caught before the cancer advances to a deep melanoma, which is harder to treat.”

Brewer goes on to speculate that the problem may be down to the use of indoor tanning salons that are particularly popular amongst younger women. In fact, recent research has shown indoor tanning salons downplaying the risks to potential clients, which have been shown in research to increase skin cancer risk by nearly 75%.

Childhood sun burns can also contribute, and perhaps the X and Y generations have been more exposed to beach holidays and other outdoor activities than older generations were.

The Mayo clinic article cites the example of Janey Helland, of Mapleton, Minn. who didn’t worry about when tanning in high school and college.

“I used tanning beds to get ready for homecoming and prom … In college, I tanned before a trip to Barbados because I didn’t want to get sunburned.”

At just 21, she was diagnosed with a melanoma, of which she has now been cured. However, it’s frightening for the patient to have a cancer diagnosis at such a young age from something that is generally considered an older persons disease. It also worries researchers to see the statistics climbing.

The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health. Other authors include Kurtis Reed, M.D., Christine Lohse, Kariline Bringe, Crystal Pruitt, and Lawrence Gibson, M.D. all of Mayo Clinic.

Written by Rupert Shepherd