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Melanoma Rates Soar Among Younger Women

But rates of the cancer in young men haven't changed, study says

THURSDAY, July 10 (HealthDay News) -- Cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are increasing sharply among younger women in the United States, but not among younger men, a new study says.

"These findings are important, because they suggest that public education campaigns to educate Americans about the risks of skin cancer from sun tanning do not appear to have resulted in a reduction in melanoma rates among young women," said lead researcher Mark Purdue, of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics.

"We observed a 50 percent increase in the annual incidence of melanoma among young adult Caucasian women between 1980 and 2004," he added.

The number of cases among young women increased from 9.4 per 100,000 in 1980 to 13.9 per 100,000 in 2004, according to the report, published in the July 10 online edition of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

For the study, Purdue's team collected data on the incidence of melanoma among white men and women, 15 to 39 years of age. The researchers used data from the cancer institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program, which is a network of regional cancer registries that record all newly diagnosed cancers.

In addition to the rising rates of melanoma among younger women, the researchers found an increasing trend for thicker and later-stage melanomas, which suggests that the increase isn't the result of better reporting of the disease.

Purdue said it's not clear what's driving the melanoma trend among younger women.

"The leveling off in melanoma rates for young men gives cause for optimism regarding a possible reduction in future trends in older men," Purdue said. "However, our findings for young women suggest that we may see increasing rates of melanoma among older women for some time to come."

Dr. Jeffrey C. Salomon, an assistant clinical professor of plastic surgery at Yale University School of Medicine, said the findings reflect what doctors are seeing in their offices.

"Young people should consider these statistics as a warning that they, too, are susceptible to this potentially dangerous form of skin cancer," Salomon said. And, he added, "The data is similar to the findings of large-scale studies in Australia."

People -- whether young or not -- should take precautions and limit their sun and ultraviolet radiation exposure and incorporate the use of sunscreens containing UVA blocks, Salomon advised.

And people should routinely examine themselves for telltale signs of melanoma, such as suspicious pigmented lesions, Salomon said. "I regularly have patients who have had pigmented lesions noted by themselves or other people that turned out to be a melanoma. Checking yourself and others can save someone's life," he said.

More information

To learn more about melanoma, visit the American Cancer Society.

Steps to Protect Yourself From the Sun

Dr. Robin Ashinoff, medical director of Dermatologic, Mohs, and Laser Surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, offers the following advice to help prevent melanoma:

  • Don't deliberately sunbathe. There's no such thing as a "safe" tan -- not even from tanning beds.
  • Slip, slop, slap -- slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat.
  • Use a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
  • If you have to be tan, for whatever psychological reasons, get a spray tan or put on a self tanner.

SOURCES: Mark Purdue, Ph.D., Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md.; Robin Ashinoff, M.D., medical director, Dermatologic, Mohs, and Laser Surgery, Hackensack University Medical Center, Hackensack, N.J.; Jeffrey C. Salomon, M.D., assistant clinical professor of plastic surgery, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn; July 10, 2008, Journal of Investigative Dermatology, online

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