Jun 7, 2023 - Health

Arizona's melanoma rates are about 40% higher than U.S. average

Estimated rate of new cases of melanoma
Data: American Cancer Society; Note: Estimates are model-based 4-year ahead projections and rounded to nearest 10; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Arizona's estimated rate of melanoma cases is well above the national average, according to the American Cancer Society; but underreporting over the past two decades makes it difficult to know whether skin cancer rates have worsened in recent years.

By the numbers: Arizona's estimated rate of annual melanoma cases per 100,000 residents was 42.3 in 2022, compared with the national rate of 29.9, per the American Cancer Society.

Why it matters: Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and cases left untreated can be fatal.

Flashback: While reviewing case data submitted to the Arizona Cancer Registry in 2013, UofA Skin Cancer Institute codirector Robin Harris realized melanoma cases dropped in 2003 and remained well below the national average.

What happened: Doctors are required to report cancer cases to the registry under state law, but because most melanoma cases are diagnosed and treated at dermatologists' offices — not hospitals or cancer facilities, where doctors are familiar with the requirement — total cases went unreported, Harris tells us.

  • Harris and others started the Arizona Melanoma Task Force in 2013 to better understand local skin cancer rates. An initial review found doctors were underreporting cases by 72%.

Flash-forward: After a decade of educating dermatologists and pathologists, our melanoma reporting is much better now — perhaps the best in the country, Harris says.

  • Yes, but: The task force is still encouraging doctors to do a better job reporting race and ethnicity information for patients with melanoma to see how it impacts different demographics.
☀️ Share who say they believe the following <br> false statements, by generation
Data: American Academy of Dermatology; Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

Of note: Although we don't yet have enough good data to establish melanoma trends over time, there’s some evidence that younger Latinos are contracting melanoma at an increased rate, Harris said.

Zoom out: In a recent survey, the American Academy of Dermatology found that many people — younger generations, in particular — believe a number of myths about "healthy" and "safe" tanning.

Be smart: "For an adult, you really need about a shot glass-full of sunscreen to give yourself good coverage when you're outdoors," Nancy Akerman, senior policy adviser for the Environmental Protection Agency, tells Axios.

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