Deadly Type of Skin Cancer Is on the Rise


Cancer Cells Dividing

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

The southern and coastal regions of Canada have had higher incidences of skin cancer.

In Canada, the prevalence of melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer, is rising. According to recent research performed by McGill University, those who live in southern and coastal locations are more at risk.

“Cutaneous melanoma causes more deaths than any other skin cancer, accounting for 1.9% of all cancer deaths in men and 1.2% in women in Canada. Globally, there were 290,000 new cases of this form of skin cancer in 2018,” says Dr. Ivan Litvinov, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at McGill University.

Incidence of melanoma skin cancer across Canada. Credit: Figure adapted from here.

Even after accounting for other characteristics like age, the Maritime provinces of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia in Canada had the highest incidence rate of melanoma in the nation. Although rates in New Brunswick, Ontario, and British Columbia were similarly high, they were comparable to the national average of 20.75 instances per 100,000 persons per year, while rates in the prairie provinces and Newfoundland and Labrador were lower than the national average.

“Melanoma incidence is not uniform across Canada and there are some pockets of the country that are affected much more than the others,” says Dr. Litvinov.

Men and older adults have greater rates of skin cancer

Incidences of melanoma were greater in men than in women, at around 54% vs 46%, according to study findings published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine, with the exception of melanomas that often occur on fingers (acral lentiginous melanoma).

“This is possibly due to higher exposure to ultraviolet radiation in nail salons,” says Dr. Litvinov.

Skin cancer was more prevalent in the head and neck region and on the trunk in males. The legs and arms were more often affected in women. Melanoma incidence rates were also greater in those over 60.

Melanoma Male vs Female

Melanoma affects different areas of the body in males versus females. Credit: Figure adapted from here.

“Skin cancer risks increase as you age, likely due to accumulated exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or other artificial sources. But skin cancers may also be found in younger people. Factors like genetics, personal history, and where you live, all play into the risk of exposure. Sometimes melanoma can happen in a sixty-year-old due to sunburns that they had in their teens, twenties, and thirties,” says Dr. Litvinov.

Mortality rates are decreasing in Canada

The researchers note that although melanoma rates are increasing, mortality rates are decreasing for the first time since 2013. This is likely due to new, targeted immunotherapy treatments, they say. Still, the international picture remains more uncertain.

“Globally there was a 44% increase in melanoma rates over the years, with a corresponding surge in mortality rates of 32%. Rates of melanoma are likely to increase with climate change and the thinning of the Earth’s ozone layer,” says Dr. Litvinov.

Melanoma Incidence Graph

Melanoma incidence and mortality. Credit: Figure adapted from here.

According to the researchers, public education campaigns that target people living in high-risk geographic areas are essential in preventing melanoma. These campaigns should also target men and women differently.

“We need to encourage women to protect their legs and arms from the sun, while for men sun exposure on the torso, head, and neck is the main problem,” says Dr. Litvinov.

Reference: “Population-Based Study Detailing Cutaneous Melanoma Incidence and Mortality Trends in Canada” by Santina Conte, Feras Ghazawi, Michelle Le, Hacene Nedjar, Akram Alakel, François Lagacé, Ilya Mukovozov, Janelle Cyr, Ahmed Mourad, Wilson Miller Jr., Joël Claveau, Thomas Salopek, Elena Netchiporouk, Robert Gniadecki, Denis Sasseville, Elham Rahme and Ivan Litvinov, 3 March 2022, Frontiers in Medicine.
DOI: 10.3389/fmed.2022.830254

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