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Melanoma rates on the rise

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New data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) shows that melanoma skin cancer continues to be one of the most rapidly increasing cancers among Minnesota residents.

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Melanoma of the skin is a more serious form of cancer than the more commonly diagnosed basal and squamous cell skin cancers. From 2005-09, melanoma rates in Minnesota increased by 35 percent for males and 38 percent for females.

According to commissioner of health Dr. Ed Ehlinger, the main risk of exposure for Minnesotans is in the summer, but they also need to protect their skin during winter vacations.

The best protection against skin cancer is reduced exposure to natural ultraviolet light and tanning beds.

"The idea that it is a good health move to get a 'base tan' before going on vacation is a myth," Ehlinger said. Base tans increase exposure and add more risk of developing skin cancer.

In 2009, about 1,460 Minnesotans were diagnosed with invasive melanoma of the skin, nearly three times more than were diagnosed in 1988.

Since 1995, the melanoma rate for non-Hispanic white females age 20-49 years old in Minnesota has doubled. In 2009, the rate for females in this age group was twice the rate for males.

Increases in melanoma are likely the result of increased exposure to ultraviolet light, both natural and from tanning beds, as well as better detection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that about 65 percent to 90 percent of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet light. Other risk factors for melanoma are family history of skin cancer, fair skin and certain types of moles as well as a large number of moles.

MDH launched new interactive maps for melanoma displaying incidence rates by county and gender. Cancer maps and incidence data through 2009 are available at the Minnesota Public Health Data Access page at apps.health.state.mn.us/mndata/cancer.

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