Melanoma: Facts & Figures

Incidence of melanoma:

Melanoma is increasing in Minnesota

Incidence rates of melanoma have doubled in Minnesota since 1988 for both males and females, although mortality has remained stable. National trends show that melanoma has been increasing since the mid-1970s. Excessive exposure to UV light, like that from tanning beds, is the leading cause of melanoma.

Melanoma cases in Minnesota

Age-adjusted rate of new melanoma cases.
Age-adjusted rate of new melanoma cases.

Data note: Data from a large reporting source is still in process for 2012 and 2013.

Incidence rates increased steadily in males with a 4.1% average annual change. For females, from 1991 to 2006, the incidence increased 4% per year. Most recently in females the rate has increased 7.8% per year from 2006 to 2011. In 2011 the age-adjusted incidence rate of melanoma was 32.6 new cases per 100,000 males and 24.3 new cases per 100,000 females.

Melanoma cases in Minnesota, by age

Rate of new melanoma cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.
Rate of new melanoma cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2011.

Although the rate of melanoma increases with age, it is one of the most commonly-diagnosed cancers among Minnesotans ages 20-49. Among adults aged 20-49, females are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than males of the same age. The highest incidence rates occur among males aged 75 and older.

Melanoma cases among White (non-Hispanic) Minnesotans by sex (ages 20-49)

Age-adjusted rate of new melanoma cases, among non-Hispanic whites age 20-49.
Age-adjusted rate of new melanoma cases, among non-Hispanic whites age 20-49.

The population of young adults aged 20-49 years and of non-Hispanic white race/ethnicity, particularly women, has high rates of melanoma. Since cancer is primarily a disease of aging (there is a higher incidence of cancer in older adults), we do not expect to see such high rates in young people. 

Over the last 15 years, the rate of melanoma in Minnesota has steadily increased among young non-Hispanic White women of this age group, with a 4% annual increase. Most recently, the age-adjusted incidence rate of melanoma among young non-Hispanic white women was 27.5 new cases per 100,000 women aged 20-49 years.


Youth tanning device use

Percent of non-Hispanic White public school students that used an indoor tanning device one or more times in the last year. Source: Minnesota Student Survey
Percent of non-Hispanic White students that used an indoor tanning device one or more times in the last year. Source: Minnesota Student Survey

Excessive exposure to UV light is the primary risk factor for melanoma. Artificial sources of UV light in tanning beds is a primary risk factor for melanoma. The risk of skin cancer from indoor tanning increases with each tanning session and is highest among those who start tanning at a younger age according to the US Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer (2014).

Many school-aged youth in Minnesota were exposed to UV light through indoor tanning devices. Among students surveyed in 2013, tanning was most common among white females in 11th grade (33.7% used a tanning device in the last year). On average, only about 8% of non-White students used a tanning device in the past year.

In August 2014, a new law went into effect in Minnesota prohibiting people under age 18 from using UV-light tanning devices. Since the new law went into effect, tanning bed use has dropped among Minnesota teens. A dramatic drop was seen in 11th grade White (non-Hispanic) girls where the percent dropped from 33.7% to 8.8%. 

The MDH Comprehensive Cancer Control Program has more information on Teens, indoor tanning and melanoma


What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a specific type of skin cancer that begins in the melanocytes (skin cells which produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin color). There are other more common types of skin cancer such as squamous and basal cell skin cancer, but these are less likely to spread and also less deadly than melanoma.  Melanomas can occur in other parts of the body (other than the skin), but this section will focus only on melanomas of the skin.

What are risk factors for melanoma?

  • Ultraviolet (UV) light: Excessive exposure to sunlight and other sources of ultraviolet radiation, particularly intense intermittent exposure early in life, is the primary risk factor for melanoma. Tanning lamps and beds are also sources of UV light and increase the risk for melanoma.
  • Sunburn: the American Association for Cancer Research found that 5 or more blistering sunburns before age of 20 may increase the risk of melanoma by 80%.
  • Skin type: White people have a ten times higher risk for melanoma than African Americans. Likewise, fair skin that freckles or skin that burns easily increases risk. Also, a person who has many moles is more likely to develop melanoma, although most moles will never cause any problems.
  • Family history of melanoma increases risk.

How can melanoma be prevented?

Limit exposure to strong sunlight and other sources of ultraviolet light through clothing, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Avoid tanning booths. It is especially important that children are protected from excess sun exposure and other sources of ultraviolet light. Watch for abnormal moles and skin growths, and bring them to the attention of a physician.

A person with a strong family history of melanoma should have regular skin exams by a dermatologist and especially avoid sun exposure and tanning beds. For more information about steps you can take to prevent melanoma, see American Cancer Society's Detailed Guide on Melanoma: Can melanoma be prevented?

The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention gives the following Skin Cancer Prevention Tips

  • Do not burn or tan
  • Seek shade and wear protective clothing
  • Use sunscreen
  • Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand when you're in the sun