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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Melanoma Increase Is Real

Study Shows Rise in Melanoma Isn't Just Due to Better Screening
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Melanoma Thickness continued...

Overall, the incidence of melanoma increased by 3.1% per year, the research team found. The increases occurred for tumors of all thicknesses, including those over 4 millimeters.

The biggest increase, Linos says, was found in men over age 65. Both the incidence of melanoma and the death rates are going up in that group.

"Melanoma rates are going up, especially in men over 65 years of age, where they exceed 125 new cases per 100,000 people," she says. "Melanoma rates are going up across all socioeconomic groups and regardless of tumor thickness."

Linos stops short of calling it an epidemic, saying that it is a "true rise" in incidence.

Melanoma Study: Second Opinion

While the new findings probably won't lay to rest the debate in the scientific community about whether the rise in melanoma cases is a true epidemic, the findings do show a true rise in melanoma, agrees Steven Wang, MD, director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and a member of The Skin Cancer Foundation's Photobiology Committee.

"There is no debate about the rising incidence of melanoma," he says. "We should turn this around and focus on the more important questions." Those include finding better treatments for advanced melanoma, he tells WebMD. Finding tumors earlier is a good thing, he adds. "It can avoid [the need for] aggressive surgery, for instance."

"They showed the thicker tumors, which are much less likely to be incorrectly diagnosed as melanoma, increased as well," says Martin A. Weinstock, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology and community health at Brown University and chairman of the American Cancer Society Skin Cancer Advisory Committee. "That is probably the single most important observation they made, because it does suggest that indeed the increase in incidence is real as opposed to an artifact of early detection activity.''

The emphasis, agrees Cockburn, should shift from the current debate. What's important is finding out why the incidence isn't declining and emphasizing the need to get screened. "Screening is really important," he says "You should ask your doctor for a skin exam."

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