Today’s tanning misinformation comes courtesy of the Sioux City Journal’s Dolly Butz.
In “It doesn’t pay to bask in the sun,” Ms. Butz tries to scare readers with the following:
[Melanoma] is the leading cause of cancer death among young adults ages 25-29.
Curious as to the source of this factoid, I first checked with the sunscreen-dermatologist industrial complex at SkinCancer.org. There I found only this:
Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old.
Note that SkinCancer.org only refers to incidence of melanoma — not death from melanoma. While melanoma is rare, death from melanoma is rarer still.
As SkinCancer.org cited the National Cancer Institute for its statement, I next went there to see if NCI had anything on melanoma and death among 25-29 year olds.
In the monograph “Cancer Epidemiology in Older Adolescents and Young Adults 15 to 29 Years of Age”, I found this chart show the incidence rates of various cancers among 25-29 year olds:
Note that while “invasive skin cancer” occurs marginally more often than lymphoma among 25-29 year olds (18% vs. 16%), only 70% of invasive skin cancers are melanoma. So melanoma is only 12.6% of cancers among 25-29 year olds — making lymphomas the most common cancer in the age group. Moreover, although cancers of the male and female genital tract are several, considering all cancers of the genital tract as a single group, they almost double the incidence of melanoma (23% vs. 12.6%).
Note, all this refers to melanoma incidence not mortality.
The NCI monograph summarizes the following (in relevant part) about melanoma mortality among young people:
Mortality and Survival
• As expected from the incidence patterns, the vast majority of deaths from melanoma among adolescents and young adults occurred in white, non-Hispanic patients.
• Mortality for malignant melanoma showed continued improvement over time in all age groups, but particularly in 20- to 29-year-olds.
• Melanoma in 10- to 39-year-olds was highly curable, with 5-year survival rates exceeding 90%.
• Females had a higher survival rate—exceeding 95% at five years among 15- to 29-year-olds — in comparison to males, who had an 88% 5-year survival rate during the past quarter century.
None of this supports Ms. Butz’s assertion about death from melanoma among 25-29 year olds.
A final and definitive comment about Ms. Butz’s scaremongering about sun exposure and melanoma can be found on page 54:
The etiology of melanoma in 15- to 29-year old individuals is not known.
It should be noted that the aforementioned monograph statistics are only from the period 1975-2000 though NCI has published melanoma incidence statistics through 2010. That said, NCI statistics indicate that melanoma death rates among whites under 50 have actually declined during 1975-2010.