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Head and neck melanomas on the rise

A doctor is checking a young man for skin cancer.

Oct. 25, 2019—Head and neck melanomas in young people soared by more than 50% in Canada and the U.S. over two decades, a new study shows.

Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer. Only about 1 in 5 melanomas show up on the head and neck. Still, they're deadlier than other types of melanoma. The 5-year survival rate of head and neck melanomas is worse than the 10-year survival rates for melanomas in other parts of the body.

That's why the study—which used data from a North American cancer registry—focused on head and neck melanomas. It looked at patients from infancy to age 39 who were diagnosed with the disease between 1995 and 2014.

The researchers zeroed in on young people, because two top risk factors for melanoma—sun exposure and indoor tanning—are most common in teens and young adults.

Males are more vulnerable

Over the study period, nearly 12,500 people in the U.S. and Canada developed head and neck melanomas. Of them, almost 55% were male. That's crucial news. Typically, melanoma has been seen affecting women more than men. According to the researchers, this finding means that melanoma prevention campaigns should target both sexes.

The study appeared in JAMA Otolaryngology.

Reduce your risk

Protect yourself from any type of skin cancer with these tips from the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • Try to stay in the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. That's when the sun's harmful rays are strongest.
  • Cover up when you're outside. Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Wear a broad-spectrum sun screen with an SPF of 30 or higher whenever you're outdoors, even on cloudy days. Reapply it every two hours or after swimming and sweating. Don't forget to put sunscreen on your neck and the top of your head.
  • Steer clear of tanning beds. If you want to look tan, consider a self-tanning product.

Spot trouble

Learn the ABCDEs of recognizing skin cancer. Skin cancer that's caught early is the most treatable.

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