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Melanoma Rising Among Middle-Age Women

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Woman sunbathing by poolSkin cancer and melanoma are the most common malignancies in the US, and these diseases are striking Americans across all age groups. However, middle-aged people seem to be feeling the brunt of this trend.

Video Overview: Melanoma Rising Among Middle-Aged Women

The number of cases of melanoma — a potentially fatal form of skin cancer — diagnosed among people between the ages of 40 and 60 has increased almost eight-fold in the last 40 years, according to a recent study.

The steepest inclines were seen in women in their 40s, the researchers learned.

On a happier note, during the same period, skin cancer-related deaths declined.

"Seek out shade, especially during midday."

For this study, dermatologist Jerry Brewer, MD, associate professor of dermatology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and colleagues looked at melanoma incidence data for individuals between the ages of 40 and 60 from 1970 to 2009.

“The most striking finding was among women in that age group,” Dr. Brewer said in a statement. "Women between 40 and 50 showed the highest rates of increase we've seen in any group so far."

It’s estimated that more than two million Americans are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer every year. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer that can spread to other organs, strikes nearly 77,000 people and kills about 9,500 in the US every year.

More than 50 percent of the cases of invasive melanoma are diagnosed in individuals between the ages of 45 and 64, according to the study's authors.

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Dr. Brewer’s team used data from the Rochester Epidemiology Project to conduct this population-based study. These researchers discovered that among white, non-Hispanic adults between the ages of 40 and 60, the incidence of skin cancer increased 4.5-fold among men and 24-fold among women.

This study uncovered that the incidence of skin cancer jumped from 7.9 cases for every 100,000 people to 60 cases per 100,000 people during the study period from 1970 to 2009.

During this same time, the overall odds of surviving melanoma increased by 7 percent.

Dr. Brewer said, “The improved survival rates may be due to increased public awareness, more frequent screenings, and detection of skin cancer at earlier stages.”

So, what’s behind the increased incidence in melanoma among middle-aged Americans? “There's been a cultural trend for many decades in which people connect being tan with being fit and even successful," Dr. Brewer suggested.

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Middle-aged individuals haven't been the only ones seeing more melanoma. In a study led by Dr. Brewer last year, melanoma was being diagnosed in young adults, ages 18-39, at what’s been described as “alarming rates.”

“Close monitoring of middle-aged patients with regular skin cancer screening examinations is strongly recommended,” Dr. Brewer and team concluded.

This study was published in the January issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The Rochester Epidemiology Project funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

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