CDC Finds Melanoma Rates Double in 30 Years; Costs Projected to Triple by 2030

Incidence of this common skin cancer keeps rising even though it is easy to prevent. CDC says more must be done to encourage Americans to use sunscreen, wear protective clothing, and limit use of tanning beds.

Melanoma cases have doubled since 1982 and the cost of treating this common skin cancer could triple to $1.6 billion in 15 years if more is not done to stop this preventable disease, the CDC announced yesterday in the Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report.

CDC’s numbers add weight to the warning issued last summer by then-Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, who called on July 31, 2014, called on Americans to act with urgency to stop the rising incidence of skin cancer in the United States. Not long afterward, authors in JAMA Dermatology called for updated screening guidelines to catch more cancers early.

The alarm from CDC comes with the message that melanoma, which is responsible for most skin cancer deaths at about 9000 per year in the United States, is highly preventable if those who spend time outside use sunscreen and wear hats or other protective clothing.

The study released yesterday stated that in 2011, the melanoma incidence was 19.7 per 100,000, and the death rate was 2.7 per 100,000. Incidence rates for white males and females are projected to increase through 2019, but death rates are projected to remain stable.

CDC projects the annual cost of treating newly diagnosed melanoma cases will rise from $457 million in 2011 to $1.6 billion in 2030. Implementation of a comprehensive skin cancer prevention program could potentially avert 230,000 cases and save $2.7 billion in treatment costs between 2020 and 2030, the authors state.

Prevention measures would include reducing exposure from outdoor sunbathing and the use of indoor tanning beds, which have been attributed by some experts with a “bubble” of cases among younger women.

To project treatment costs through 2030, the CDC researchers, used a pair of methods: cost estimates were adjusted using the per capita projected increase in the national health expenditures through 2023; then for 2024 to 2030, the annual rate of growth was calculated using the average increase in the preceding 3 years. Adjusted costs were multiplied by the projected number of new cases.

However, it is worth noting that FDA has approved several new, very expensive, therapies to treat metastatic melanoma in recent years, and drugs are often used in combination to treat advanced cancers.

Reference

Guy GP, Thomas CC, Thompson T, et al. Vital Signs: melanoma incidence and mortality trends and projections—United States, 1982-2030. MMWR. 2015; 64 Early release June 2, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/wk/mm64e0602.pdf