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Increasing Rates of Melanoma Seen Across the Country

Posted: January 9, 2009

New cases of the deadly skin cancer melanoma are increasing among men and women in the United States, particularly among older men, researchers report. Whether the increase in melanoma signals an epidemic is a matter of debate. However, the rate is increasing among all Americans and cannot be due to better screening alone, the researchers contend.

"Melanoma rates are still going up, especially among older white men," said lead researcher Eleni Linos, MD, from the dermatology department at Stanford University Medical Center. "This calls for greater awareness for patients, their families and physicians."

The report is published in the January issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. For the study, Linos's team used data from the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program to identify new cases of melanoma between 1992 and 2004. During that period, 70,596 cases of melanoma were diagnosed among non-Hispanic whites in the United States. Rates of melanoma increased by 3.1% a year, the researchers found. The increased rate was for all types of melanoma and for all thicknesses of tumors. Moreover, the rate of melanoma doubled in all socioeconomic groups, while deaths from the disease did not increase significantly.

"Scientists have debated whether the rising statistics for melanoma are skewed, as doctors detect more benign cancers earlier through screening," Linos said.

Melanoma rates are going up among all socioeconomic groups, which is a marker for access to physician care, and across all levels of tumor thickness, which is a marker of severity of this disease, Linos noted. Among men age 65 and older, the rates of melanoma have reached more than 125 cases per 100,000 men. "Because the incidence has gone up for both men and women of all social groups and across all levels of cancer thickness, we believe this represents a genuine increase in melanoma cases, not just a sign of better screening," she said.