Melanoma rates slowing everywhere but the head

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: October 18th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

In recent decades, skin cancers called melanomas have dramatically increased in developed Western nations.

For example, in Finland the incidence of melanomas jumped more than fivefold in women and eightfold in men between 1953 and mid- 1980s.

Those figures come from a fifty-year study, published in a recent issue of the International Journal of Cancer. The results contained one piece of good news… melanomas become less likely as people age.

Well, most of the time.

The risk of melanomas on the head keeps increasing throughout life. And that finding has researchers puzzled.

Melanomas are the most serious form of skin tumor, and one of the most common cancers overall. They occur when skin pigment cells become malignant.

The study involved more than sixteen-thousand melanoma cases. They were documented by the Finnish Cancer Registry, which tracks virtually all solid tumors diagnosed in the nation.

Researchers looked at the number of melanomas occurring on various parts of the body. Then they factored in the percentage of surface area each part represented. The results showed melanomas were far more common on the head than anywhere else.

And whereas the incidence of most melanomas began leveling off around age sixty, for the head there was no such reduction.

The scientists concluded that head melanomas may be different from melanomas striking other body parts.

That theory raises some interesting questions. But one thing about melanomas of the head is crystal-clear… we know how to prevent them. So keep your hats and sunblock handy.