- New research shows an increase in head and neck melanomas in young people
- Head and neck melanomas have a higher rate of mortality than melanomas found on other parts of the body
- Protect yourself from melanomas and other forms of skin cancer by avoiding excessive sun exposure and checking your skin regularly for signs of damage
Research on Rising Melanomas in Young People
Skin cancer is not a thing of great concern to most younger people, beyond trying to make sure that they don’t get bad sunburns that might increase their chance of cancer when they get older. But maybe we should all be more vigilant about caring for our skin, even in childhood and early adulthood because new research suggests that, on certain parts of the body, melanomas are on the rise.
The study, which was conducted at St. Louis University School of Medicine in Missouri, found that melanomas developing on the head and neck have increased markedly over the past 20 years in people under the age of 40.1Bray, Haley N.; et al. “Head and Neck Melanoma Incidence Trends in the Pediatric, Adolescent, and Young Adult Population of the United States and Canada, 1995-2014.” JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery. 3 October 2019. Accessed 15 October 2019. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/article-abstract/2751955. These results are based on an investigation that included data collected by a North American cancer registry. The researchers focused on diagnoses of head and neck melanomas in patients ranging in age from infancy through 39, between the years of 1995 and 2014.
An analysis of the information showed that 12,462 of the subjects developed a head or neck melanoma. Surprisingly, 55 percent of them were male, which was unexpected since melanomas on other areas of the body are more common in females. And the incidence of head and neck melanomas rose steadily throughout the course of the study by almost four percent between 1995 and 2001, then slowed but continued to rise by 1.2 percent each year from 2001 through 2014.
Head and Neck Melanomas Can Be Deadly
Melanomas arising on the head and neck, which are less common than those on other body parts, account for a total of just 20 percent of melanoma cases. So, why did the investigators choose to focus on this specific area? The answer is that head and neck melanomas are typically much more dangerous and have far lower survival rates than other melanomas. The five-year survival rate for patients with head and neck melanoma is only 17 percent, which is far lower than the 10-year survival rate of 62 percent for stage 2 appearances of this cancer anywhere else on the body.
Another reason these findings are very concerning is the age of the participants who developed melanoma. While the average age for a melanoma diagnosis is 63, it is clearly on the rise among children and young adults. Beyond the risk of recurrences of the same type of cancer, the disease and its treatments may also be associated with hearing problems, vision difficulties, hormone deficiencies, and more.
Keeping Yourself Safe from Head and Neck Melanomas
No matter what your age, it is essential to protect your skin and prevent skin cancer of all kinds. Melanomas of the head and neck are, like most skin cancers, often triggered by excessive exposure to the sun. So, while it is healthy to spend a little time outdoors each day with your skin uncovered and ready to absorb a few rays of sunshine to enable your body to produce vitamin D, if you know you’re going to be outside for a longer period of time, cover your skin up after a little while. If you’re not a fan of commercial sunscreen formulas, then read our blog “Safer Sunscreen Protection” for some alternative ways to minimize your sun exposure.
And while we can’t undo what we’ve done in the past when it comes to tanning and sunburns, we can be careful about checking our skin for signs of damage that can be an indication of cancer. Make it a part of your routine every few months to thoroughly examine your skin in a room with good lighting. Note the moles, freckles, and any other marks on your skin so you will be aware of changes if they occur. If you do find anything suspicious, make an appointment with a dermatologist to have it evaluated as soon as possible.
|↑1||Bray, Haley N.; et al. “Head and Neck Melanoma Incidence Trends in the Pediatric, Adolescent, and Young Adult Population of the United States and Canada, 1995-2014.” JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery. 3 October 2019. Accessed 15 October 2019. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/article-abstract/2751955.|