The Cancer Prevention Institute of California and the Stanford Cancer Institute recently noted that the incidence of melanoma in Marin County, California is rapidly increasing in comparison to other regions of the country, and that its mortality among men (especially white men) already surpasses the mortality numbers for lung cancer, which has the highest rates among cancers nationally.
According to the research team’s report, melanoma’s incidence rate is 43% higher in Marin County’s total population than the rest of the Bay Area, and its death rate is 18% higher among Marin’s white population compared with the state’s average.
The rise of melanoma incidences in Marin County is mostly limited to people aged 65 and over at diagnosis, and its numbers are significantly different from the ones obtained in 2003. The melanoma rate in people over 65 has increased almost 200% since that year until 2011.
Another relevant result is that among Marin County men of all ages, melanoma is now the second most diagnosed cancer after prostate cancer.
These numbers are different from the rest of the country and even the world, where prostate or lung cancers rank first in diagnoses and mortality, and melanoma is ranked much lower, probably due to effective public tobacco control among populations in California, who have seen rapid declines in the incidence of smoking-related cancers.
Despite higher rates of melanoma, in this region, higher proportions of this cancer are diagnosed when the tumor is thinner and more curable, probably due to better access to healthcare and skin screening.
According to Christina A. Clarke, PhD research scientist and scientific communications advisor for the Cancer Prevention Institute of California and a member of the Stanford Cancer Institute, there are two possible reasons for these higher rates. “Our best guess is that the higher average socioeconomic status of its residents corresponds to a higher proportion of people with the known risk factors for melanoma: light skin, hair, and eyes, and an “intense intermittent sun exposure,” she wrote on Stanford’s page.
The report also highlights the use of improved screening to a higher rate of melanoma detection, which could partially explain the high rates.
Local dermatologists reacted to the statistics with some surprise, but maintained their recommendations regarding skin cancer prevention, such as medical advice about skin screening and sun exposure (wearing hats, long-sleeves and broad-spectrum sunscreen).
In their report, researchers considered that a greater public attention to melanoma prevention is needed in this population, including more screening, especially on groups of risk and more preventive work “encouraging sun safety, to reduce intense sun exposure among all ages, but children and teenagers in particular, as these ages are considered the most vulnerable for later skin cancer risk.”