The Melanoma Mortality Rate Drops Sharply & New Study Finds Out Why

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States, with over 100,000 cases of melanoma every year. Melanoma only makes up about 1% of skin cancer cases, but it's also what causes the most issues—and can be hard to treat once it spreads.

But luckily, according to a new analysis of melanoma rates going as far back as the 1980s, researchers from New York University and Harvard University observed the number of deaths due to melanoma has dropped in recent years. In fact, the numbers indicate the largest yearly declines in death ever recorded for melanoma. Here's why that's happening.

Studying the latest treatments.

Metastatic melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that can spread around the body. Since 1986, metastatic melanoma-related deaths in Americans were steadily climbing until 2013, with an observed 7.5% increase, based on this research. But then, between 2013 and 2016, there was a sharp 18% drop in metastatic-melanoma deaths.

According to the researchers, that decrease is thanks in part to 10 new skin cancer treatments that have proved to be very effective for skin cancer patients. Co-senior study author and professor David Polsky, M.D., Ph.D., says this research is the first analysis of the impact of these new treatments, adding, "these therapies are now considered the backbone of how we treat this cancer."

The decrease in deaths is significant, especially compared to death rates of other types of cancer. And not only are these new treatments effective, but, this study says, they take less of a toll on patients than previous methods, such as chemotherapy.

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Prevention is still important.

While the exact cause of melanoma isn't fully understood, genetics, age, and sex do seem to be a risk factor. White people are most likely to be diagnosed, with the likelihood increasing with age. But exposure to UV rays from the sun, or even tanning beds, is also well known to increase someone's risk.

That said, both prevention and early detection are important. This research recommends avoiding excessive UV light exposure, and seeing a doctor right away if you notice any skin changes. Early detection will involve less intense treatment and lower cost, not to mention it increases positive outcomes. Other ways you can tend to your skin are, of course, include slathering on your best SPF daily, as well as reducing oxidative stress that takes a toll on skin.

The bottom line is, while effective new treatments aren't a reason to go overboard on your tanning time, this is welcome news for anyone with particularly vulnerable skin or a family history of skin cancer. And while these treatments aren't surefire "cures," they're helping us get closer and closer.

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