Why melanoma skin cancer is increasing and what we can do

The global incidence of melanoma is increasing. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, the incidence of malignant melanoma skin cancer in most developed countries has risen faster than any other cancer type since the mid-1950s. This increase is especially noticeable when looking at statistics from the US and UK.
melanoma is increasing

The incidence of melanoma has increased

Information from AIM shows that the incidence of melanoma has increased by 15 times in the last 40 years in the US and a similar increase has been seen in the UK. Lighter skinned populations are more likely to develop melanoma as darker-skinned people generally have more UV-protective melanin in their skin.

This helps explain why the incidence of malignant melanoma in Caucasian populations generally increases with decreasing latitude. With the highest recorded incidence occurring in Australia, where, according to info from AIM, the annual rates of melanoma are 10 and 20 times the rates in Europe for women and men respectively.

On the whole, there are many reasons for this increase in melanoma globally. Discover the main drivers below.

Melanoma: When to see a doctor

Better detection of melanoma

Some of the upswings in melanoma rates can be attributed to greater public awareness and better detection of the disease, but it can’t account for all of the increase of melanoma we are seeing.

According to a study published in 2009 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, increases in melanomas occurred for tumors of all thicknesses, and the incidence doubled in all socioeconomic groups over a 10-year period studied.

This points to the fact that, even in populations with limited access to quality healthcare, higher rates were still reported. This means that at least some of the rise is due to a real increase in incidence.

Tanning beds are a no-go

Another reason for the rising melanoma rates is an increase in tanning bed usage over the years. Tanning beds became widely popular in the 1980s and grew to a large, global industry throughout the 1990s. While there is some evidence that shows tanning bed usage is now starting to decline, they have still made their impact.

An article in Live Science cited statistics showing that during the same time tanning beds became popular, melanoma rates increased by 2 percent in the general population, but amongst young women, who make up 71 percent of tanning salon customers, incidents of melanoma increased by 2.2 percent.

A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2001, noted this gender difference as well, with females showing a greater increase in thin lesions than men.

Another analysis of nine SEER registry databases (1975-2006) also showed that age-specific melanoma incidence rates were greater among women than men prior to age 40.

An aging population contributes

Another driving factor for the increase in melanoma incidence is simply an aging population as cancer risk increases with age. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, most skin cancer patients are over the age of 65. Over time, our bodies’ ability to fight cancer mutations decreases.

The exact reason isn’t clear but many researchers think it has to do with our aging tissue. This makes the chance of developing cancer more likely. As life expectancies increase around the world, so will incidences of cancer as a result.

Depleting ozone through climate change

As climate change continues to pose a greater risk to our world, we may all become more susceptible to skin cancer. The World Health Organization estimates that a 10 percent decrease in ozone levels will result in an additional 300,000 non-melanoma and 4,500 melanoma skin cancer cases.

The ozone layer protects us from the sun’s harmful UV radiation and makes life on earth possible for humans. The release of ozone-depleting substances into our atmosphere is breaking down this layer and increasing the strength of UV radiation. This can be seen in Australia especially as it is close to the Antarctic ozone hole, and, as a result, experiences higher rates of UV radiation.

This is thought to be one of the reasons why skin cancer rates are higher in this area of the world.

Empower yourself to prevent melanoma

One piece of good news is that with increased awareness of skin cancer and prevention methods, melanoma can be caught in the early stages, greatly increasing the chances of survival. Learn the symptoms of melanoma to catch the cancer before it has a chance to spread and become deadly.

Self-check on a regular basis, and take the early detection into your own hands.

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Melanoma: The current situation in New Zealand

New Zealand has, together with Australia, the highest melanoma incidence in the world. The combination of skin type and UV impact from the sun put the inhibitors of New Zealand at high risk. So let’s take a closer look at the current melanoma situation in NZ.

Why is skin cancer so common in Australia?

Australia has a confluence of factors that put the population at risk of skin cancer. According to Cancer Council Australia, there are more than 750,000 people treated for one or more non-melanomas in Australia each year. Currently, two in three Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before the age of 70. In fact, it was estimated that 15,229 new cases of melanoma alone would be diagnosed in 2019 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).

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