Melanoma Death Rates on the Decline

By Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC - May 22, 2020

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. While melanoma only accounts for 1% of all skin cancers, it is the deadliest form of the disease. It is estimated that one person dies from melanoma every hour of every day. But there is some good news.

graphic showing decrease in skin cancer deaths
Courtesy: Source: Am J Public Health. 2020 May. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2020.305567

A new study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found an 18% decline in the number of melanoma deaths among whites during 2013 to 2016, with the sharpest drop among white men age 50 or older. This is a drastic difference when you consider the melanoma death rate among this group had been slowly increasing 30 years prior.

The Cutaneous Oncology Clinic at Moffitt Cancer Center is seeing a similar pattern in the clinic.

“Diagnosis rates for melanoma continue to rise, but new treatment approaches have led to a substantial increase in the survival rate for metastatic melanoma – that is, melanoma that has spread from the skin to other parts of the body,” said Dr. Vernon Sondak, chair of the Cutaneous Oncology Department at Moffitt. “The fact that we’ve been able to make a major impact in older males is particularly important because that is a group we haven’t always been successful in getting to see a dermatologist for early diagnosis when melanoma is most curable.”

portrait of blockquote author

"Diagnosis rates for melanoma continue to rise, but new treatment approaches have led to a substantial increase in the survival rate for metastatic melanoma."

- Dr. Vernon Sondak, Chair, Cutaneous Oncology Department

Melanoma is much more common in whites than in people with darker pigmentation, so the incidence and mortality rates in whites have a major effect on the overall nationwide rates. But Sondak adds, “melanoma can occur in anyone, regardless of their skin color, and we want to be sure the successes that we are seeing reported here extend to everyone with the disease.”

The study noted the decline was likely due to a wave of new therapies approved for advanced melanoma in the past decade, such as targeted therapies and immunotherapies. Moffitt researchers were involved in the development and/or clinical testing of virtually all of these breakthroughs through research in its Donald A. Adam Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center of Excellence. The Center of Excellence brings researchers and clinicians from across disciplines to promote translational research, taking the discoveries in the lab directly to the patients.

Since 2011, 17 new therapies have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of melanoma and other skin cancers. Moffitt has been involved in the research or clinical trials that led to each of those approvals.

Researchers within the Center of Excellence are working to help even more with studies investigating the signaling and molecular drivers of melanoma cells. They also participate in research working groups focused on more rare subsets of melanoma, such as those that develop in children (pediatric melanoma), in the eye (ocular melanoma) or on the skin of the palms, soles and nail beds (acral melanoma).

While scientists at Moffitt and elsewhere work to expand the tools needed to diagnose and treat skin cancers, the best possible advice during Skin Cancer Awareness Month is to take prevention seriously. Protect your skin from the sun and avoid indoor tanning.

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Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC Senior PR Account Coordinator 813-456-3342 More Articles


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