Mayo Clinic Finds Dramatic Rise in Skin Cancer in Young Adults

Posted on April 2, 2012

The Mayo Clinic is seeing an alarming rise of skin cancer, especially among people under 40. According to a study by Mayo Clinic researchers published in the April issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the incidence of melanoma has escalated, and young women are the hardest hit. The researcher looked for first-time diagnoses of melanoma in patients 18 to 39 from 1970 to 2009. The study found the incidence of melanoma increased eightfold among young women and fourfold among young men. The researchers speculate that indoor tanning bed use and childhood sunburns are key culprits.

Lead investigator Jerry Brewer, M.D., a Mayo Clinic dermatologist, says, "We anticipated we'd find rising rates, as other studies are suggesting, but we found an even higher incidence than the National Cancer Institute had reported using the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Result database, and in particular, a dramatic rise in women in their 20s and 30s."

On the plus side, researchers also found mortality rates from the disease have improved over the years, likely due to early detection of skin cancer and prompt medical care.

Dr. Brewer says, "People are now more aware of their skin and of the need to see a doctor when they see changes. As a result, many cases may be caught before the cancer advances to a deep melanoma, which is harder to treat."

The researchers speculate that the use of indoor tanning beds is a key culprit in the rising cancer rate in young women. Dr. Brewer says people continue to use tanning beds despite abundant information about the dangers of using them.

Dr. Brewer says, "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. The results of this study emphasize the importance of active interventions to decrease risk factors for skin cancer and, in particular, to continue to alert young women that indoor tanning has carcinogenic effects that increase the risk of melanoma."