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Melanoma Rates Continue to Rise in Young Women

Posted: July 11, 2008

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About 62,000 melanoma cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, and more than 8,400 people die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Previous studies have shown that the rate of new diagnoses has been increasing among adults overall, but it was unclear what was happening with younger adults.

Purdue and his colleagues analyzed cancer statistics for men and women ages 15 to 39 collected through the NCI's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program, a network of regional cancer registries. For young men, the rate of new melanoma cases rose from 4.7 cases per 100,000 per year in 1973 to 7.7 cases per 100,000 per year in 1980, but it then stopped rising.

"The reason for the leveling off in melanoma rates among young men is not known," Purdue said in an e-mail. "This may reflect reductions over time in the amount of sun exposure experienced by young men (public awareness campaigns regarding sun exposure and melanoma were widely launched in the US in the 1980s. However, we really don't know for sure."

For young women, the rate went from 5.5 cases per 100,000 per year in 1973 to 9.4 in 1980, and it kept rising to 13.9 in 2004. "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," Purdue said. The increase is unlikely to be simply the result of increased awareness and diagnosis, Purdue said, because the data also suggest the cancers are being found at a later stage.

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