This week Reuters reported on a new study from Queensland, Australia which found that people are more likely to die from thinner melanomas. This is in comparison to the long believed idea that thicker lesions were more dangerous. The thin tumors accounted for almost one quarter of melanoma deaths during the period of study. More research however needs to be done in order to determine which thin tumors are deadly.
David Whiteman, who led the study, said that melanoma tends to bury itself into blood and lymph vessels. This can lead to the cancer growing into secondary cancers in other areas of the body as well.
Australia’s public health campaign to reduce skin cancer, launched in 1981, helped to lower rates of melanoma in people under 40 through prevention, the study team writes in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. But concurrent awareness efforts have also raised the sheer numbers of tumors diagnosed, they note. Melanoma, considered the deadliest type of skin cancer, most often affects fair-skinned people exposed to large doses of ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds. Queensland, a tropical region, has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. In the United States, there were 21.3 new cases of melanoma per 100,000 people from 2007 to 2011, according to the National Cancer Institute. An estimated 76,100 new cases will be diagnosed this year and 9,710 people will die from the disease. Melanoma rates in the U.S. have doubled since 1973, a trend often attributed in large part to sunbathing and other leisure-time UV exposure.
In the past, research found that patients with thin lesions survived an average of 20 years after their diagnosis. This has created the idea that thin melanomas are less deadly, but Whiteman’s team reminds us that not enough research has looked at the distribution of deaths in the population from melanoma by tumor thickness.
They reviewed data on 4,218 Queensland residents who died from skin melanomas between 1990 and 2009, looking at age and death rates for the lesions by thickness of the first tumor diagnosed. Thick skin tumors were defined as 4mm or more and thin tumors were 1mm or less. Thin tumors made up 68 percent of all melanomas. Deaths from these thinner lesions nearly doubled between 1990-1994 and 2005-2009, jumping from 14 percent to 23 percent. Deaths from thick lesions remained stable at 14 percent through the study period. People with thin lesions died about six years after they were diagnosed, while those with thick lesions died two years after the melanoma was detected, according to the data.
Dr. Jennifer Stein, an associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, points out that although thin melanomas can have a good prognosis, they can also be fatal. She also points out that since thin tumors are more common than thick, they also count for a disproportionate amount of melanoma deaths.
Overall, this should remind us the importance of early detection and the fact that some early stage cancers can still be deadly.
Here at MoleSafe, we find this to be a very important study. Any study which emphasizes the importance of early detection is a good study in our books!
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