Skin Cancer Rates Rising Rapidly Among Young Adults

Melanoma occurs in young adults – and it’s increasing.

Recently, researchers from the Mayo Clinic published compelling data indicating that rates of new cases of melanoma (skin cancer) increased among 18-39 year olds in Olmsted County between 1970 and 2009.  And the rates increased quite a bit over the last forty years: 8-fold among women and 4-fold among men.  This is a large increase: for example, in women, between 1970-1979 there were 5.4 cases of melanoma per 100,000 person-years compared to 2000-2009 when there were 43.5 cases of melanoma per 100,000 person-years.

The average age at diagnosis was thirty years – in other words, half of these young adults were less than thirty years old at diagnosis.

Another study from the National Cancer Institute examined rates of melanoma across the country in 1973 versus 2004 and found that new cases of melanoma nearly doubled in men (4.7 cases to 7.7 cases out of 100,000 persons) and tripled in women (5.5 cases to 13.9 cases out of 100,000 persons) comparing 1973 data to 2004.

How do we explain this increase in risk?  It is thought to be largely from our UV exposure behavior.  Young women are more likely than men to get sunburns and use tanning beds, and the use of these has been increasing.  Rates of sunburns remain high among young children and adolescents.