Skin cancer rates are skyrocketing among young adults, with young women facing the greatest risks, a new Mayo Clinic study has found.
Researchers, reporting in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found Americans under 40 years of age have experienced the greatest increase in melanoma -- the most virulent and deadly form of skin cancer -- over the past four decades.
The likely culprit: Indoor tanning beds. Childhood sunburns and ultraviolet exposure in adulthood may also contribute to melanoma development, the researchers said.
"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 … and in particular, a dramatic rise in women in their 20s and 30s," said lead investigator Dr. Jerry Brewer, a Mayo Clinic dermatologist.
For the study, researchers analyzed records from the Rochester Epidemiology Project, a decades-long database of all patient care in Olmsted County, Minn. In tracking melanoma in patients 18 to 39 from 1970 to 2009, they found an eightfold increase among young women and fourfold among young men.
Researchers also found one bright spot: Mortality rates from the disease have improved over the years, likely due to early detection of skin cancer and prompt medical care.
"People are now more aware of their skin and of the need to see a doctor when they see changes," Brewer said. "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, noting a recent study found people who use indoor tanning beds frequently are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma.
Despite widespread warnings about the dangers of tanning beds, Brewer noted: “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."
The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.