Why are melanoma rates increasing?

Reports from around the world show that melanoma rates have steadily increased over the past three decades and continue to rise. The incidence rate has tripled among American adults since the 1970s, while the highest rates have been reported in New Zealand and Australia. Why do we see such an increase in melanoma skin cancer globally? Read here about the main contributing factors.
melanoma rates

Table of Contents

Increased awareness and detection

The world has begun being more aware of skin cancer. An international survey about sun exposure behavior showed that 88% of the survey respondents were aware of the risks of developing skin cancer when exposed to the sun without protection. In Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, numerous foundations, health, and private organizations run campaigns to increase public awareness for skin cancer and promote skin self-check for suspicious spots.

The development and broader use of diagnostic tools have also contributed partially to the increase of melanoma incidents. Emphasis has been given to the development of technologies that detect melanoma at an early stage when the disease is most treatable.

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Tanning and cancer are related

Another factor that contributes to the rising melanoma rates is sun-seeking behavior and the use of tanning beds. Tanning beds became widely popular in the 1980s and grew to a large, global industry throughout the 1990s. While there is some evidence showing that tanning bed usage is now starting to decline, they have still made their impact.

The extensive usage of tanning beds is connected to the increase of melanoma rates in the general population and, more specifically, among young women (increase by 2.2%) who make up 71% of tanning salon customers. Research has shown that UV light from the sun and tanning beds can cause not only melanoma but also increase the risk of a benign mole progressing to melanoma.

Read about: early melanoma symptoms and how to spot them

Aging populations

The highest melanoma rates increasing are found in older males and females. According to Cancer Research UK, melanoma incidence increases steadily from age 20-24 years, with the highest incidence rates occurring in the 90+ age group for males and the 85-89 age group for females.

As we age, our bodies’ ability to fight mutation decreases, while DNA damage increases, leading to higher melanoma rates among aging populations. At the same time, life expectancy rises globally, leading to a larger aging population and thus more incidences of skin cancer and melanoma.

Ozone depletion and UV

Some studies point to the depleting ozone layer as a possible driver of the increase in skin cancer rates, especially in Australia and New Zealand. The ozone layer protects us from harmful UV radiation from the sun. A thinner ozone layer means that humans are exposed to higher levels of UV radiation, which can increase skin cancer risks. The Antarctic ozone hole is located near Australia and New Zealand, which can explain why skin cancer rates are higher in this region of the world.

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