News release: Melanoma rates on the rise in Minnesota

News Release
January 30, 2013

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Melanoma rates on the rise in Minnesota

MDH advises winter travelers to protect themselves from the sun on winter vacation

New data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) shows that melanoma skin cancer continues to be one of the most rapidly increasing cancers among Minnesota residents.

Melanoma of the skin is a more serious form of cancer than the more commonly diagnosed basal and squamous cell skin cancers. From 2005 to 2009, melanoma rates in Minnesota increased by 35 percent for males and 38 percent for females.

"If not found early, melanomas can spread to other parts of the body and can be deadly," said Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger. "For Minnesotans the main risk for sun exposure is in the summer, but we also want to remind people taking winter vacations that they risk serious health consequences, if they don't protect their skin from ultraviolet light."

The best protection against skin cancer is reduced exposure to natural ultraviolet light and tanning beds.

"The idea that it is a good health move to get a ‘base tan' before going on vacation is a myth," Ehlinger said. "Sunburns and exposure to the sun or tanning booths increase one's risk of cancer. And a base tan does not help. A base tan is just more exposure that adds to your risk of developing skin cancer."

The recent increase during the past five years is similar to what is being reported nationally and is part of a longer-term trend in Minnesota. Incidence rates in Minnesota have been increasing significantly since 1988 when cancers diagnosed in Minnesota residents began to be reported. In 2009, about 1,460 Minnesotans were diagnosed with invasive melanoma of the skin, nearly three times more than were diagnosed in 1988.

The risk of being diagnosed with melanoma is increasing among all age groups, including young adults. Since 1995, the melanoma rate for non-Hispanic white females age 20-49 years old in Minnesota has doubled. In 2009 the rate for females in this age group was twice the rate for males. The difference in melanoma rates between females and males in this age group may be explained by different levels of ultraviolet light exposure, such as the use of indoor tanning, which is more common in young women than young men.

Increases in melanoma are likely the result of increased exposure to ultraviolet light, both natural and from tanning beds, as well as better detection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that about 65 percent to 90 percent of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet light. Other risk factors for melanoma are family history of skin cancer, fair skin, and certain types of moles as well as a large number of moles.

MDH has launched new interactive maps for melanoma displaying incidence rates by county and gender. Cancer maps and incidence data through 2009 are available at the Minnesota Public Health Data Access Web page:


For more information, contact:

Scott Smith
MDH Communications

Michelle Strangis
MDH Cancer Control