A new study has revealed an alarming rise in melanoma among people aged 18 to 39: over the past 40 years, rates of this potentially deadly skin cancer grew by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men. Researchers examined data on the 256 young adults in Olmstead County, MN, who were diagnosed with melanoma between 1970 and 2009. Between 1970 and 1979, just 16 new cases, or 4.8 cases per 100,000 people, were diagnosed. But in the decade ending December 31, 2009, 129 cases were recorded, an incidence rate of 30.8 cases per 100,000 people — an enormous jump from the 1970’s.
Although lifetime risk of melanoma is about 1.5 times greater in males than in females, among young people this pattern is reversed, as this Mayo Clinic Proceedings study demonstrated. The authors observed that Indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanning, which is much more popular among young women than young men, may account for the disproportionate increase in incidence among young women. UV rays emitted by tanning machines are cancer-causing, and Indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors; those who tan indoors just four times a year increase their risk of developing melanoma by 11 percent. Indoor tanners are also 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.
While the skyrocketing incidence figures are cause for major concern, the authors noted that death from the disease among young people is actually decreasing, due to earlier diagnosis; with more people aware of changes in their skin, and better diagnostic methods, melanomas are more frequently discovered at earlier stages, when they are easiest to treat.