Oregon is not considered to be the sunniest state in the U.S., but according to a new study published in the International Journal of Cancer, our state ranks in the top ten for the highest rates of melanoma linked to UV radiation.

The study shows cases of melanoma in the United States increased 2% a year between 2005 and 2015, and if the trend continues, it will likely rise from 96,000 cases in 2019 to 151,000 cases in 2030. Researchers cite several possible reasons for the increase in cases, including the high number of teen girls who used indoor tanning beds in the late 1990s.

What is melanoma?
Melanoma is the rarest but most serious form of skin cancer that begins in cells known as melanocytes. While it is less common than basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma is more dangerous because of its ability to spread to other organs if it is not treated at an early stage.

Skin cancer is typically associated with changes on the skin, however, approximately 15% of patients diagnosed with melanoma show no visible skin changes; the cancer is often spotted after it spreads to the lymph nodes and patients noticed a bump in their neck or groin area. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 100,000 people will receive a diagnosis of melanoma in 2020.

“The incidence of melanoma is much higher than the mortality rates, which means we’re catching it early for most patients,” says medical oncologist Dr. Keith Wells. “And, because we can catch it early, we can treat it appropriately.”

Treating melanoma
Over the last decade, significant breakthroughs have been made in treating melanoma, specifically through two types of therapies:

  • Targeted therapies, which are designed to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells while doing less harm to normal cells
  • Immunotherapies, a type of cancer treatment that helps boost the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells more effectively

“In combination, targeted therapies and immunotherapies have really changed how we treat melanoma,” Dr. Wells says.

Reducing your risk of melanoma
Protecting the skin starting at the earliest possible age helps reduce the risk of developing melanoma.

  • Wear sunscreen daily. UV radiation can still damage skin, even in the winter and on cloudy days. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen (protects against UVA and UVB rays) with SPF of at least 30.
  • Wear protective clothing. Protect your body with sun-protective clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Avoid peak sunlight. Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are most intense.
  • Avoid tanning beds. Indoor tanning has been shown to increase the risk of melanoma by up to 75%.
  • Protect children. One severe sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles your child’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.

“The sun exposure that someone experiences may not make them at risk for melanoma immediately, but down the road is when that risk manifests,” says Dr. Wells. “So, it’s important to pay attention to your body and see your doctor if you have concerns.”