Conference Coverage

Melanoma incidence continues to increase, yet mortality stabilizing



– The incidence of melanoma in the United States continues to increase, yet mortality from the disease has been stable and may even be starting to decline, according to data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program.

Director of clinical trials at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Department of Dermatology.

Dr. Laura Ferris

At the Skin Disease Education Foundation’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar, Laura Korb Ferris, MD, PhD, said that SEER data project 96,480 new cases of melanoma in 2019, as well as 7,230 deaths from the disease. In 2016, SEER projected 10,130 deaths from melanoma, “so we’re actually projecting a reduction in melanoma deaths,” said Dr. Ferris, director of clinical trials at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s department of dermatology. She added that the death rate from melanoma in 2016 was 2.17 per 100,000 population, a reduction from 2.69 per 100,000 population in 2011, “so it looks like melanoma mortality may be stable,” or even reduced, despite an increase in melanoma incidence.

A study of SEER data between 1989 and 2009 found that melanoma incidence is increasing across all lesion thicknesses (J Natl Cancer Inst. 2015 Nov 12. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djv294). Specifically, the incidence increased most among thin lesions, but there was a smaller increased incidence of thick melanoma. “This suggests that the overall burden of disease is truly increasing, but it is primarily stemming from an increase in T1/T2 disease,” Dr. Ferris said. “This could be due in part to increased early detection.”

Improvements in melanoma-specific survival, she continued, are likely a combination of improved management of T4 disease, a shift toward detection of thinner T1/T2 melanoma, and increased detection of T1/T2 disease.

The SEER data also showed that the incidence of fatal cases of melanoma has decreased since 1989, but only in thick melanomas. This trend may indicate a modest improvement in the management of T4 tumors. “Optimistically, I think increased detection efforts are improving survival by early detection of thin but ultimately fatal melanomas,” Dr. Ferris said. “Hopefully we are finding disease earlier and we are preventing patients from progressing to these fatal T4 melanomas.”

Disparities in melanoma-specific survival also come into play. Men have poorer survival compared with women, whites have the highest survival, and non-Hispanic whites have a better survival than Hispanic whites, Dr. Ferris said, while lower rates of survival are seen in blacks and nonblack minorities, as well as among those in high poverty and those who are separated/nonmarried. Lesion type also matters. The highest survival is seen in those with superficial spreading melanoma, while lower survival is observed in those with nodular melanoma, and acral lentiginous melanoma.


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