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Cancer Surv. 1994;19-20:219-40.

Cutaneous melanoma.

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International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon.


Between the early 1960s and the late 1980s, the incidence of melanoma increased at a rate of 3-7% per year in populations of mainly European origin. Corresponding trends were observed in mortality. Higher rates of increase in incidence were observed in a few populations (eg 8.9% per year in Hawaii whites). With the exception of Japan and possibly Puerto Rico, incidence rates of melanoma have remained stable in the few populations of mainly non-European origin for which reliable incidence data were available. A comparison of age specific trends in incidence and mortality in populations of mainly European origin showed two general patterns: a continuous increase in incidence in all age groups but with moderation or cessation of the previous rising trend in mortality in younger people in more recent time periods (eg Canada, continental USA, Denmark and the UK) and recent moderation or cessation of both incidence and mortality trends in younger people (eg New Zealand and, possibly, Hawaii whites). The first of these two patterns appeared to be the most common. Studies of site specific trends in incidence in 13 populations indicate that the highest rates of increase have generally been for melanomas on the trunk and the lowest for those on the head and neck. There is weak evidence to suggest that the rate of increase on the lower limbs has been greater in women than in men. Studies of incidence trends in the 1980s by thickness of melanoma in seven populations show that relative and absolute incidence has increased most for the thinnest melanomas and least for the thickest lesions. Increasing detection, earlier diagnosis and a real rise may together explain the increase in incidence of melanoma. The increases in mortality suggest that incidence has really increased, and the recent moderation in mortality trends may be explained by improved survival from melanoma due, most likely, to increasingly early diagnosis. In some populations, it may also indicate that the incidence increases are coming to an end. The disproportionately increasing incidence of thin melanoma, the divergence between incidence and mortality trends and the recent sharp increases in incidence in some populations suggest that earlier diagnosis or greater detection of less aggressive melanomas may have contributed to the incidence trends. A progressive change from predominantly occupational to predominantly recreational patterns of sun exposure is the most likely cause of increasing real incidence of melanoma in populations of mainly European origin.

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