Cancer deaths rates falling in U.S., but melanoma remains a major concern

By John Michaelson
Minnesota News Connection

There is some good news in the battle against cancer, although the latest data show serious challenges remain on several fronts. Dermatologist Cindy Firkins Smith of Willmar says overall death rates continue to decline in the U.S. for all of the most common cancer sites, including lung, colon, prostate and breast.

“The bad news is that for a few cancers, the frequency of diagnosis is going up, and one of those that concerns us is the frequency of melanoma. In fact, the frequency has gone up fairly significantly, and it has been for the last 30 years, and we’re pretty concerned about that.”

According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma, a type of skin cancer, is the most rapidly-increasing cancer among the people of the state. It’s estimated that there will be more than 1,100 new melanoma cases in Minnesota this year.

Dr. Smith says the rise comes despite the fact that melanoma is almost always preventable. “We don’t protect ourselves very well from the sun and with tanning booths. The use of tanning booths, particularly in our young people, is a significant risk factor for the development of melanoma as well as non-melanoma skin cancer.”

In addition to being preventable, she says, melanoma is also treatable when caught quickly, so people should get checked annually, or right away if they have any changing or irregular moles.

“The good thing about melanoma is that if you diagnose it early it’s very treatable, and it’s survivable. It’s generally removed surgically. The scary thing about melanoma is if it’s not diagnosed early, there aren’t very many good treatments for it, once it metastasizes, and people don’t survive very long.”

The other cancers which had death-rate increases over the last decade were cancers of the uterus, liver and pancreas.

The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer is at seer.cancer.gov.

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