New England only region in U.S. with decreasing melanoma rates, study finds

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The Northeast was the only region in the country to see a decline in melanoma rates over the past decade, a new study has found.

Published Dec. 28, 2016 by the Journal of American Medical Association, the study “Comparison of Regional and State Differences in Melanoma Rates in the United States” looked at Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data from 2003 and 2013 to assess the progression of melanoma death and incidence rates in each state.

Melanoma, a skin cancer that causes more than 9,000 deaths annually, “continues to increase faster than the rate associated with any other preventable cancer,” the study noted. Skin cancer is currently the most common type of cancer in the United States.

New England was specifically cited as the only geographic region in the nation in which most states saw a reduction in both melanoma incidence rates and deaths.

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Of the 49 states studied (data for Nevada was not available), 11 saw a decrease in incidence rates and 38 saw increases. Of those 11, five were from New England. Maine was the only New England state that saw increased incidence rates in 2013 compared to 2003.

Maine and Rhode Island also saw increased death rates in 2013 compared to 2003. Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut all saw decreases in both incidence and death rates.

The authors suggested that New England’s success was driven by strong skin cancer prevention programs, including the work done by the Melanoma Foundation of New England. The nonprofit was lauded for its Practice Safe Skin initiative, which installed sunscreen dispensers in public and recreational areas in Boston and beyond.

Incidence rates may have risen nationwide due to increased awareness of melanoma prompting more people to consult doctors and get diagnosed in the years between the data sets, the study noted.

According to the CDC, the best ways to prevent skin cancers like melanoma include staying in the shade; limiting skin exposure by wearing longer clothing, hats and sunglasses; using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and avoiding indoor tanning.