Melanoma expected to become second most common cancer diagnosis in U.S.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Scientists warn that deadly melanomas are predicted to increase within the next two decades. According to recent research, skin cancer will become the second most common type of the disease in the U.S. by 2040. 

Cancer, of course, is the world’s second biggest killer behind cardiovascular disease. It claims 9.6 million lives a year, or one in every six. Malignant tumors are the leading cause of death in 45 to 64 year-olds. They also account for a substantial proportion of healthcare spending.

Corresponding author Dr. Lola Rahib, of Cancer Commons in Mountain View, California, says the landscape of the disease will be “notably different.” She warns that melanoma will surpass cases of lung and bowel cancer, with only breast cancer being more prevalent. 

“Estimates included increases in melanoma incidence, pancreatic cancer deaths, and liver cancer deaths, as well as decreases in prostate cancer incidence and breast cancer deaths. These estimates will be important to guide research, healthcare and health policy efforts and emphasize the importance of cancer screening, early detection and prevention,” says Dr. Rahib, in a statement per South West News Service.

There were an estimated 1.8 million diagnoses from cancer in the U.S. in 2020, including 100,350 new cases of melanoma. Fueled by cheap package vacations and the popularity of tanning salons, this number has increased by 2% each year since 2008.

“The incidence rate for melanoma has increased steadily from 1998 to 2015. This increase may be associated with environmental or behavioral factors, such as UV exposure,” says Dr. Rahib. “Increasing incidences could also be associated with improved awareness and early detection. However, reports of increasing incidences across all tumor stages suggest increasing incidences are not merely an artifact of increased early-stage tumor detection.”

The study is based on population growth projections and current cancer incidence and death rates. It found that lung cancer will fall to third with 208,000 cases, replaced by melanoma rising from fifth to second with 219,000 cases. Bowel cancer will remain fourth with 147,000 cases.

Prostate cancer will drop to 14th with 66,000 cases, owing to fewer men opting for screening. “Future prostate cancer incidence rates may change as disease not identified through screening presents as more advanced,” says Dr. Rahib. 

By 2040, the top four causes for cancer-related death in male individuals were estimated to be lung (29,000 deaths), prostate (26,000), liver and bile duct (24,000) and pancreas (22,000). In women, they were estimated to be lung (34,000), breast (30,000), pancreas (22,000) and womb (18,000 deaths). Lung cancer was projected to remain the leading cause of cancer death during the next 20 years for men and women combined, leading to approximately 63,000 deaths.

“The estimated absolute number of cancer diagnoses and deaths will be important to inform the need for professionals trained to recognize and care for individuals with the disease. It will also ease the burden on insurance companies and government programs, as well as influence the allocation of research funding to support future prevention and treatments,” said Dr. Rahib.

“Our analysis suggests an association between cancer screening programs and both the number of cancer diagnoses and the number of deaths in future years. The influence of screening guidelines can be traced back to changes in incidence and death rates over time for the most diagnosed cancers that cause the most deaths,” she continues. “These findings provide insight to approach cancer types for which awareness is raised, specifically melanoma, pancreatic cancer, liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancers, and colorectal cancer in the group aged 20 to 49 years.

“Further research into effective screening and, where possible, elimination of premalignant lesions, will substantially alter the future burden of cancer on the U.S. population,”  adds Dr. Rahib.

Findings are published in JAMA Network Open.

SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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