As we crawl out of a bout of deep freeze, it seems like a strange time to note the alarming rate of melanoma cases — skin cancer that is usually tied to too much time in the summer sun.
New statistics from the Minnesota Department of Health released last week, however, make it clear that warnings about skin cancer prevention need to be heeded all year long. That’s especially true now that some people also get their ultraviolet exposure from tanning beds, not just from the sun.
Rates of melanoma cases have tripled in the state since the health department started collecting data in 1988. This isn’t a Minnesota-only problem; it’s a trend that is happening nationwide.
South-central Minnesota is no different. The number of new melanoma cases in Blue Earth County grew from 46 in the five-year period ending in 1999 to 78 new cases in the five-year period ending in 2009. Nicollet County in those same periods saw cases increase from 19 to 33.
The hope is that detection is improving and that is part of why the number of cases is growing. But state health experts were clear when they released the data that they’re concerned about the effects of tanning. Since 1995, the melanoma rate for white females ages 20-49 has doubled. In 2009 the rate for females in this age group was twice the rate for males. Health experts said the difference in melanoma rates between females and males in this age group may be explained by different levels of ultraviolet light exposure, such as the use of indoor tanning, which is more common in young women than young men.
The problem is that melanomas can spread to other parts of the body and can be deadly, Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger said. He dismissed the notion that getting a “base tan” can help prevent you from burning while on vacation in sunny climates, explaining that it’s just more exposure that adds to your skin cancer risk.
Recognizing that risk of melanoma is a real concern, even for Minnesotans who spend much time inside all winter. Reducing exposure to ultraviolet light, using sunscreen when in the sun and having regular skin checks are all important steps to preventing skin cancer.