Written by: Kofi Dwinfour

The incidence of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, has increased by more than 250% among children, adolescents and young adults since 1973, according to award-winning research to be presented by Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 51st Annual Meeting in Chicago.

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The research has been recognised with an ASCO Merit Award. Analysing SEER data, Roswell Park scientists determined that the number of cases of melanoma diagnosed in children, adolescents and young adults increased by 253% from 1973 to 2011. Survival rates also have increased — from 80% for the period 1973-1980 to 95% in 2011. Female young adults appear to be at particular risk for melanoma, a trend that may be due to known risk factors such as high-risk tanning behaviours.

Given the epidemic rise of melanoma cases diagnosed among children, adolescents and young adults, it is imperative that new research initiatives are implemented, genetic and environmental risk factors identified, and effective prevention and screening strategies employed,

says Demytra Mitsis, MD, lead author of the study and a Fellow in the Department of Medical Oncology at Roswell Park.

Tawny Willoughby skin cancer on faceTawny Willoughby, above, a skin cancer sufferer said: “If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here ya go!”

The SEER data analysis included 35,726 cases of melanoma identified among individuals less than 40 years of age from 1973 to 2011. Mitsis and colleagues found that 98% of the melanoma cases were diagnosed among adolescents and young adults (aged 15-39 years), and 32 years was the median age. Females comprised 57% of reported cases from 1973 to 1980 and 65.2% of reported cases from 2001 to 2011. The Roswell Park team’s evaluation revealed that the proportion of non-invasive, early-stage melanoma cases increased from 4% of cases for the period 1973 to 1980 to more than 20% of all melanoma cases in 2011.

The reality is that melanoma is the third most common cancer in those 15 to 39 years old, and these numbers have been steadily increasing. This is a national problem that needs to be addressed, and it begins with awareness and effective prevention strategies,

adds senior author Nikhil Khushalani, MD, Section Chief for Soft Tissue and Melanoma.

Malignant melanoma is fast becoming a major issue in Britain, too. In fact, in the last few years incidences of malignant melanoma, in the UK, have risen faster than all the other top 10 cancers. What is your experience of melanoma? Do you regularly use a sunbed? Share your story or leave a comment below.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute. “Melanoma rates dramatically increasing in children and young adults.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 May 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150528163042.htm>.

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