Young Women Developing Melanoma

Melanoma shows up even in teenagers

(RxWiki News) There's an alarming cancer trend. While other forms of the disease are decreasing, one type is going through the roof. Melanoma incidence is increasing in dramatic numbers among young people, and it is mostly preventable.

Mayo Clinic researchers have uncovered a startlingly high incidence of melanoma, particularly among young women in their 20s and 30s. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer.

"You are not immune to skin cancer; protect yourself from the sun."

Led by Jerry Brewer, M.D., a Mayo Clinic dermatologist, investigators pored through decades of patient records in Olmsted County, Minnesota. The population-based study examined how many patients between the age of 18 and 39 were being diagnosed with melanoma for the first time from 1970 to 2009.

When one looks at lifetime melanoma risk, men are at higher risk than women. However, the opposite is true for adolescent and young adult women, according to Dr. Brewer.

In a video clip, Dr. Brewer said that the study found the increased incidence was "four-fold higher in men and about eight-fold higher in women." He added that young people are not only "getting it more frequently and surviving it more frequently."

Researchers believe the use of indoor tanning beds is a probable culprit for this trend among young women.

“A recent study reported that people who use indoor tanning beds frequently are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma, and we know young women are more likely to use them than young men,” Dr. Brewer said.

When asked about the significance of this study, Dr. Brewer responded, "It shows that melanoma is a cancer that doesn't respect age, and it happens in young people as often as it happens in old people. And in this case, it happens even more in young women compared to other groups of people."

Dr. Brewer adds there are two key messages, "The first key message is you're not immune and that you can get melanoma even in your teenage years and early 20s. The second key message is that it's preventable and even if you do get it, if you find it early and have it treated properly, then you can survive it."

Taking steps to prevent skin cancer - protecting skin from sun with clothing, hats and broad-spectrum sunscreens - is key. It's also necessary, "to continue to alert young women that indoor tanning has carcinogenic effects that increase the risk of melanoma,” Dr. Brewer says.

Findings from this study were published in April, 2012 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

Review Date: 
April 2, 2012