An estimated 76,250 new cases of melanoma will occur in the US this year, according to the American Cancer Society’s just-released Cancer Facts and Figures 2012. This is a significant rise of 6,020 cases from 2011 figures. The number of melanoma-related deaths rose as well, by almost 400 cases – from 8,790 deaths in 2011 to a predicted 9,180 deaths in 2012.
“These are disturbing increases,” noted Allan C. Halpern, MD, Chief of the Dermatology Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and a Vice President of The Skin Cancer Foundation. "We suspect that part of the increase in incidence is due to greater awareness of melanoma, with more people checking their own skin for unusual growths and coming in for professional skin examinations. Detection methods are also improving, which explains why more melanomas are being found early, when they can usually be easily cured. However, the simultaneous increase in melanoma deaths tells us that other factors are at play that are driving this melanoma ‘epidemic’— the most likely of which is exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Hence, we urge everyone not to use tanning booths and to protect themselves diligently when in the sun. We also urge everyone to check their skin head to toe once a month, and bring any concerning spots to medical attention. Individuals with lots of moles, a personal history of skin cancer, or a family history of melanoma should see their doctor at least annually for a total-body skin exam.”
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and incidence rates have been climbing steadily for the past 30 years. In fact, since 2004, incidence rates among whites (who are most likely to develop the disease) have been increasing by almost 3 percent per year in both men and women. Melanoma is now the fifth most common cancer among men in the US, with 44,250 expected to be diagnosed this year, and the sixth most common cancer among women, with 32,000 new cases anticipated this year. The lifetime risk of developing the disease is now 1 in 36 for men, and 1 in 55 for women.