Cases of deadly melanomas on the head and neck rose more than 51 percent over two decades among young people in the United States and Canada, a new study reports.
Researchers found that the incidence of head and neck melanoma rose nearly 4 percent a year from 1995 to 2001, and 1.2 percent a year from 2001 to 2014 in children and young adults.
Using data from a North American cancer registry, the investigators looked at patients from infancy to age 39 who were diagnosed with head and neck melanoma between 1995 and 2014.
During that time, nearly 12,500 people were diagnosed with the cancer. Of those, 55 percent were boys and men, and 91 percent lived in the United States, the study found.
"This is an important finding because melanoma in other parts of the body are usually more common in females than males," said study co-author Nosayaba Osazuwa-Peters. He is an assistant professor in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at St. Louis University School of Medicine.
"It is therefore important that melanoma prevention campaigns do not only focus on young women," he explained.
The researchers zeroed in on melanoma of the head and neck because, although it accounts for only one in five melanoma cases, its survival rates are worse than for other melanomas.
"In fact, the five-year survival rate of head and neck melanoma is worse than the 10-year survival rates of other regions of the body," Osazuwa-Peters explained in a university news release.
Also, while melanoma patients are diagnosed at an average age of 63, this type of cancer from sun exposure and indoor tanning is most common among teens and young adults.
Osazuwa-Peters said that the public can help spot melanoma early. "For example, barbers and stylists might be the first to spot irregular skin on the scalp before the doctors do. It is therefore important to increase awareness about this cancer," he said.
The report was published online recently in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology--Head & Neck Surgery.
Learn more about melanoma at the Skin Cancer Foundation.
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