Melanoma among cancers still on the rise: report
Katherine DeClerq, Special to CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, May 28, 2014 5:51AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 28, 2014 1:29PM EDT
With fewer Canadians taking care to wear sunscreen to protect themselves from the sun's dangerous UV rays, the Canadian Cancer Society says it shouldn't come as a surprise that melanoma is on the rise.
Between 1986 and 2010, the incidence rate of melanoma -- the deadliest form of skin cancer -- has risen two per cent annually amongst men and 1.5 per cent for women, according to the agency.
The Canadian Cancer Society released its annual Canadian Cancer Statistics report on Tuesday, in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada.
The comprehensive report estimates that 6,500 new cases of melanoma and 76,100 cases of non-melanoma skin cancers will be diagnosed in Canada in 2014. It also estimates 1,490 deaths due to skin cancer are expected this year.
"We are looking at progress on many cancers, especially common cancers like lung and prostate cancers, (and) they are declining," said Dr. Robert Nuttall, director of cancer control policy at the Canadian Cancer Society.
"It's really just a small number of cancers that we are seeing the rates coming up, like thyroid (and) uterine cancer, as well as melanoma. This is one of those rare cancers that we see rates going up, unlike other cancers."
Melanoma is a hereditary cancer, but anyone can be susceptible to the disease. People with fair skin, red hair, or those who have multiple or atypical moles are twice as likely to be at risk for melanoma and other skin-related cancers.
Most of the time melanoma is visible on the skin; abnormally shaped moles or red dots with irregular colouring and borders can be indicative of cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society encourages people to go straight to their doctor if they notice any abnormal markings on their skin.
Ninety per cent of cases of melanoma are caused by UV radiation, either from the sun or artificial tanning beds.
People who use tanning beds before the age of 35 are 59 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma – a statistic that shows, according to Nuttall, that it is one of the most preventable cancers.
Despite that fact, two national surveys both claim that over the last two decades, Canadians are spending more time in the sun without adequate protection. The proportion of adults who spend more than two hours in the sun during leisure time has increased, yet the application of sunscreen or protective gear has not followed suit.
"I don't think people are using the right amount of sunscreen, and they are forgetting to apply it regularly," Nuttall said. "People need to pay attention when they are outside and the strength of the sun."
Caitlin Jones, 26, was shocked when she heard she had basal cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer.
At age 24, she went to the doctor to have a spot on her forehead examined. The spot was small and pink, and for a year it would bleed, scab over, and heal in cycles. After a biopsy, she was told she had cancer.
"I kicked myself for spending so many years making myself vulnerable … spending time in the sun without protection for years. I would go to indoor tanning facilities. I really didn't take too many precautions," she said.
"I never thought that it would happen to me when I was so young, or even when I was older," she added. "Now, I think it's important for people to make choices based on all the research and information out there."
Dr. David Hogg, an oncologist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, says that societal behaviour, like wearing revealing clothing and vacationing in warm-climate countries, is one of the hardest things to change among young people.
But he said it's also the most necessary thing to change in order to prevent skin cancer.
"They are a long way from seeing the consequences of their actions," Hogg said, speaking of youth. "If you tell a 16-year-old that they will develop a fatal cancer of the skin in 40 years, chances are they will shrug that off because it isn't real to them."
Hogg said that he and his colleagues are seeing an increase in melanoma cases in young women, mostly due to exposure of UV rays in tanning booths. He noted that the concept of a healthy tan is a contradiction, because a tan or a burn are just markers of skin damage.
"Some of those young women will die, and their deaths will directly be related to the tanning industry," he said. "I consider the tanning industry (to be) the cigarette industry of the third millennium."
Avoiding artificial rays are just one precautionary step people can take.
The Canadian Cancer Statistics report also suggests avoiding planning outdoor activities in between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., or any time of the day when the UV Index is three or greater. It also suggests the use of protective clothing like broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
With files from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip