Teens and young adults often think of themselves as invincible. Nothing will overpower them. When it comes to skin cancer, though, they can be dead wrong.
A recent study has found that young men were more likely to die from melanoma than young women.
Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is the third most common cancer in adolescents and young adults.
Raising awareness of melanoma and its impact on young people is needed, according to the researchers.
Christina S. Gamba, MD, of the Stanford University Medical Center in California, and colleagues conducted this study to learn how an individual's sex influenced melanoma survival in young people.
"Melanoma in adolescents and young adults is a major and growing concern," Vernon K. Sondak, MD, chair of the Department of Cutaneous Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL, told dailyRx News.
According to Dr. Sondak, this study found twice as many adolescent and young adult patients diagnosed with melanoma from 2000-2009 as in the same period a decade earlier. This confirms recent findings from other studies that the incidence of childhood and adolescent melanoma has been significantly increasing in recent years.
For this study, the researchers analyzed data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program. Participants included 26,107 non-Hispanic white teens and young adults diagnosed with invasive melanoma between 1989 and 2009.
The patients were between the ages of 15 and 39 at the time of diagnosis, and they were followed for an average of 7.5 years.
Among this group, a total of 1,561 deaths were caused by melanoma. Most of the deaths occurred while the participants were in their early 30s.
Males accounted for fewer cases of melanoma (39.8 percent overall) than females, yet 63.6 percent of the deaths from melanoma occurred in young men.
"While [adolescent and young adult] patients may have a slightly better overall prognosis than older melanoma patients, Gamba’s study showed that melanoma is a major cause of death – especially for male patients," Dr. Sondak said. "In their study, 12 percent of males and 5 percent of females died within 10 years of their melanoma diagnosis, and the tendency for males to do worse persisted even after correcting for known prognostic factors."
Dr. Sondak, who is also Director of Surgical Education at Moffitt, continued, "These findings underscore the critical importance of limiting ultraviolet exposure — from the sun but also from artificial sources such as tanning beds — during childhood and adolescence for both girls and boys.
"Many states have already taken steps to limit or prohibit tanning bed use by children and adolescents (Texas being one of the most recent states to do so), but far too many states in this country still allow this harmful practice to go on virtually unregulated," Dr. Sondak said.
The study authors concluded, "This alarming difference in the outcome highlights the urgent need for both behavioral interventions to promote early detection strategies in young men and further investigation of the biological basis for the sex disparity in melanoma survival."
According to Dr. Sondak, "When melanoma does occur in children and young adults, we need to do a better job of getting the message out about early diagnosis and treatment, so that we can improve outcomes and eliminate or decrease gender discrepancies like those found by Gamba and many other melanoma researchers over the years."
Findings from this study were published June 26 in JAMA Dermatology.
The lead investigator received support from the Stanford Medical Scholars Fellowship. No conflict of interest disclosures were reported.