Myth: There is an epidemic of melanoma among teenage girls

Boston Globe business editor Mark Pothier displays what he doesn’t know about skin cancer.

Pothier writes today in an ominously titled commentary “A Grave Glow“:

In May, I watched a group of high school students pose for pictures before their prom. To prepare for this rite of passage, nearly all the girls — including my daughter — spent hours on tanning beds. My wife and I had tried to talk Laura out of signing up for a three-month promotion at a salon. Your skin is naturally beautiful, we said, don’t risk hurting it. We mentioned a new study that showed an increase in cases of melanoma — the most serious form of skin cancer, particularly among females age 15 to 19.

As Ellen Foley sang in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light“:

Stop right there!

While the melanoma rate for teenage girls does seem to have increased somewhat over the past 35 years (see chart below),


it’s quite likely that this increase is due to the well-recognized phenomenon of increased detection of benign melanomas/misdiagnoses of malignant melanomas.

Supporting the misdiagnoses explanation is the fact that there no data suggesting that deaths from melanoma have increased among teenage girls. Consider the graph below from the National Cancer Institute.


So why are the data in the above graph “suppressed”?

They are not. The final note on the graph indicates that there are too few cases of melanoma in teenage girls to even keep records — i.e., fatal melanoma in teen girls is exceedingly rare.

Teenage tanning is “a grave concern”? Nonsense.

There are many actual risky behaviors in which teenage girls often engage. Parents should focus their attention on those.

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