WASHINGTON – Increasing numbers of younger women continue to be diagnosed with the most dangerous form of skin cancer even as the rate of new cases has leveled off in younger men, federal health officials reported Thursday.
An analysis of government cancer statistics from 1973 to 2004 found that the rate of new melanoma cases in younger women had jumped 50 percent since 1980 but did not increase for younger men in that period.
“It’s worrying,” said Mark Purdue, a research fellow at the National Cancer Institute, who led the analysis published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. “What we are seeing in young adults right now could foretell a much larger number of melanoma cases in older women.”
The new research did not examine the reasons for the trend, but Purdue said it could be due to such factors as women spending more time outdoors and indoor tanning. Young women are much more likely than young men to frequent tanning salons, Purdue and others noted.
“One possible explanation is increases among young women of recreational sun exposure or tanning bed use,” Purdue said. “Both of these things have been identified as risk factors. It’s possible increases in these two behaviors may be responsible.”
About 62,000 melanoma cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, and more than 8,400 people die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Previous studies have shown that the rate of new diagnoses has been increasing among adults overall, but it was unclear what was happening with younger adults.