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.

From 1991 to 2005, incidence rates increased significantly in both sexes, by 3.7% per year among both males and females. From 2005 to 2010, the incidence rates increased by 6.8%. The rates have been relatively stable since 2010. Most recently, the age-adjusted incidence rate of melanoma was 34.5 new cases per 100,000 males and 22.9 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 2013.

Although the rate of melanoma increases with age, it is one of the most commonly-diagnosed cancers among Minnesotans ages 20-34. Among adults aged 20-34, 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 in Minnesota by sex (ages 20-49)

Rate of new melanoma cases, among non-Hispanic whites age 20-49.
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 significantly increased among young non-Hispanic white women of this age group, with a 4% increase per year. Most recently, the age-adjusted incidence rate of melanoma among young non-Hispanic white women was 20.5 new cases per 100,000 women aged 20-49 years.


Youth tanning device use, by sex

Percent of white students that used an indoor tanning device one or more times in the last year. Source: Minnesota Student Survey, 2013.
Percent of white students that used an indoor tanning device one or more times in the last year. Source: Minnesota Student Survey, 2013.

Excessive exposure to UV light, including artificial sources of UV light like tanning beds, is the primary risk factor for melanoma. In particular, exposure to UV light early in life increases the risk for melanoma.

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 (34% 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, including males and females that reported any race other than white.

In August 2014, a new law went into effect in Minnesota. This law prohibits people under age 18 from using UV-light tanning devices. It is expected that the high rates of youth using tanning devices will drop significantly. 


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
  • Get vitamin D safely