Melanoma Rates on the Rise in U.S.

Image: skin cancer
Basal cell carcinoma begins in the basal cell layer of the skin. Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the squamous layer of the skin. Melanoma begins in the melanocytes, which are the cells that make melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. US CDC

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By Maggie Fox

More Americans than ever are being diagnosed with melanoma, and it’s not just because doctors are better at catching it early, researchers said Wednesday.

Despite warnings to stay out of the sun, use sunscreen and shun tanning beds, rates of the deadliest form of skin cancer have risen steadily since 2009, the team of skin experts said.

“The current lifetime risk of an American developing invasive melanoma is 1 in 54 compared with 1 in 58 when we last reported in 2009,” they wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Dermatology.

More than 76,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma this year, Dr. Alex Glazer of the National Society for Cutaneous Medicine and colleagues noted. And more than 10,000 will die from it, up from 8,500 in 2009, according to the American Cancer Society.

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The incidence of melanoma has grown from 22.2 cases per 100,000 people to 23.6 cases per 100,000 people, they said.

"The overall burden of disease for melanoma is increasing and rising rates are not simply artifact owing to increased detection of indolent disease," they wrote.

That’s still slower growth than in past decades. There was a 200 percent jump in deadly melanoma cases between 1973 and 2014. “The rates of melanoma have been rising for the last 30 years,” the American Cancer Society said.

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Glazer and colleagues pointed to other studies that suggest more people are being diagnosed with melanoma because doctors are looking harder for it and getting better at detecting it.

But they also noted that the mortality rate is rising faster than the detection rate, which suggests it’s not being caught earlier.