Melanoma Rates on the Rise

Melanoma treatment costs projected to nearly triple by 2030

(RxWiki News) After a long winter, you may be itching to head to the pool and bake in the sun. But don't grab your towel and sunglasses just yet. You may want to stay aware of the potential risks.

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that melanoma rates have nearly doubled over the last 30 years.

“The rate of people getting melanoma continues to increase every year compared to the rates of most other cancers, which are declining,” said lead study author Lisa C. Richardson, MD, director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, in a press release. “If we take action now, we can prevent hundreds of thousands of new cases of skin cancers, including melanoma, and save billions of dollars in medical costs.”

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, almost 50 million patients are treated for skin cancer each year — making skin cancer the most common form of cancer in the US. Melanoma is the least common, but most dangerous, form of skin cancer. Melanoma accounts for only 2 percent of skin cancer cases.

"Melanoma occurs when there is excessive UV ray exposure to the skin," said Miranda Wellington, MD, of Baylor Family Medical Center at Lake Ridge in Texas, in an interview with dailyRx News. "Although sunscreen is good to use and is protective, often times people forget to reapply sunscreen or may use an SPF that is not adequately protecting the skin."

Dr. Richardson and team looked at data on melanoma, which included how many cases occurred, how many patients died of the disease and what it cost to treat melanoma. The data came from the National Program of Cancer Registries and the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program. Researchers used that data to predict trends through 2030.

Dr. Richardson and team found that melanoma rates doubled between 1982 and 2011. In 1982, for every 100,000 people, 11.2 developed melanoma. By 2011, the number of patients who developed melanoma shot up to 19.7 for every 100,000 people. This translates to a total of 65,647 new cases of melanoma in 2011.

According to these researchers, the yearly treatment cost for melanoma is projected to be $1.6 billion by 2030 if this trend continues. This is nearly triple the $457 million spent in 2011.

Dr. Richardson and team found that women ages 15 to 49 were more likely to develop melanoma — compared with men of the same age group. According to these  researchers, young women are more likely to use indoor tanning — which might account for these rates. After age 50, however, men were found to be more likely to develop melanoma.

Researchers also found that white patients were more likely to develop melanoma than black patients, but black patients were more likely to die from the disease.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), risk factors for melanoma may include severe sunburns, indoor tanning and sun exposure. A family history of melanoma, having fair skin and freckles, and the number of moles on a person’s skin may also increase risk.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, moles, brown spots and growths on the skin are usually harmless — but not always. Moles that aren't symmetrical, don't have smooth borders, are a variety of colors or evolve over time may be warning signs for melanoma. If you recognize any changes in the moles on your body, see your doctor.

The EWG recommends wearing protective clothing — such as wide-brimmed hats — and using broad-spectrum sunscreens and lip balms to protect the skin from sun exposure. The agency also recommends staying inside during the middle of the day (when the sun’s rays are most intense) or staying in the shade when outside.

Dr. Wellington agreed with the EWG.

"Finding a spot in the shade may not always be an easy task depending on where you are outdoors and the time of day," Dr. Wellington said. "Wearing protective clothing ensures there is a barrier between the skin and the sun when outdoors. Protective clothing includes wearing pants, long sleeves, and hats."

This data was published June 2 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
June 3, 2015