The Mayo Clinic has reported a dramatic eightfold increase in melanoma rates in young women over the past four decades. Tanning beds are cited as a major culprit.
Researchers at The Mayo Clinic used the Rochester Epidemiology Project (REP) database to evaluate first-time diagnoses of skin cancer in young adults from 1970 to 2009, in Olmsted County, Minnesota. In total, 259 Olmsted County residents aged 18 to 39 received a first diagnosis of melanoma during this time.
Overall, the incidence of melanoma increased sixfold in those four decades. “The increase in incidence was fourfold higher in men and about eightfold higher in women,” says Dr. Jerry Brewer, Mayo Clinic dermatologist and lead investigator of the study. This rise is even higher than that found by The National Cancer Institute.
Dr. Brewer adds that, in contrast to other types of cancer, “melanoma is a cancer that happens in young people as often as it happens in old people; in this case, it happens even more often in young women compared to other groups of people.”
“The rise in tanning bed behaviour over the years is probably a major contributor. There are a lot of other things that have been found to be a factor in melanoma development but tanning bed use is probably a big one,” he says.
The study also found that, despite the increase in skin cancer rates, the risk of death from skin cancer is actually decreasing. The researchers suggested this could be due to better awareness of skin cancer and earlier intervention. There is a marked decrease in the number of patients having advanced disease at the time they are first diagnosed.
So, one key message from this study, according to Dr. Brewer, is “melanoma is preventable and even if you do get it, if you find it early enough and have it treated properly, you can survive it.”
In short, if you want to avoid skin cancer, Dr. Brewer has this advice: “Don’t go to tanning beds. Look at your skin. See a dermatologist. That can save your life.”