Melanoma rates jump in women under 40

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The annual incidence of melanoma among Caucasian women aged 15-39 years rose 50% between 1980 and 2004, according to a report in Journal of Investigative Dermatology (advance online publication, July 10, 2008). The National Cancer Institute researchers also observed a growing number of thicker and later-stage melanomas.

Although melanoma incidence declined in women from 1978 to 1987 and stabilized from 1987 to 1992, it was back on the upswing after 1992—both for thinner (< 1 mm) and thicker melanomas and regional and distant tumors. “The recent increase in incidence among young women parallels reported trends in exposure to UV rays, the primary environmental cause of melanoma,” the investigators point out. They further note that sunburns, the average number of days spent at the beach, and the use of tanning beds is increasing, with tanning beds particularly popular among young women.

In a bit of encouraging news, melanoma-related mortality fell for women as well as men beginning in 1981, a pattern that remained in place through the 2004 end date.

Another recent study of U.S. workers participating in the National Health Interview Survey found that primary-care clinicians frequently do not include a thorough skin check in their routine exams (J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008;
59:55-63). Investigators say periodic skin exams can lead to early detection of cancer, making such exams especially important for patients whose jobs involve excessive exposure to the sun.
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