116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Despite Iowa's chilly temperatures and overcast winters, the number of new melanoma cases in the state has skyrocketed since the 1970s — rising 284 percent. That's according to an American Cancer Society report.
During that time, the report found the rate of new cases has quadrupled, jumping from 6.2 cases per 100,000 people to 23.8 cases per 100,000.
This makes melanoma, a form of skin cancer that beings in the pigment, one of the fastest-growing cancers in Iowa. And the state has some of the highest rates in the country — even higher than beach states generally thought to be sunny and warm such as Florida and California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
'I actually think people who live it every day are more cautious,' said Kimberly Ivester, administrative director for the Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center, 'where, here, after a gloomy winter, you just want to get out there. ...
That's when you'll see the deeper sunburns because we go a longer amount of time without (the sun).'
The rise follows a nationwide trend — more than 73,800 people will be diagnosed in 2015 — and the American Cancer Society reported that rates climbed almost 3 percent between 2006 and 2010.
About 840 people in Iowa were diagnosed with melanoma in 2014, according to the American Cancer Society report, which also estimated that about 110 people died of the disease that year.
'If you look at Iowa, we're a farming state,' said Dr. Vincent Reid, an oncologist and medical director of Mercy Medical Center's Hall-Perrine Cancer Center.
That means people are outside more when compared to other states, he added.
'The nature of farming, you have more potential for exposed skin,' Reid said.
Reid attributed the spike in Iowa and across the country to several factors, including an increase in awareness, a breakdown in the ozone layer and people's behavioral habits, such as tanning.
'But it does represent a significant statistical increase,' he added.
Melanoma is more than 20 times more common in whites than blacks, according to the American Cancer Society. That's because they have fairer skin and are more prone to sunburns, Reid said.
And while melanoma rates are typically highest among older adults because they have been chronically exposed to the sun, Reid said there also is an increase in new cases among young women.
Ivester called melanoma a 'multigenerational issues,' explaining the Community Cancer Center sees patients from 18 years old to 90.
'We do see a lot of women in their mid-to-late 40s who did indoor tanning or sunbathed with baby oil when they were younger,' she said. 'That's probably because skin cancer wasn't talked about like it is today.'
The cancer society report found that the age-adjusted rate of melanoma in those under 40 years of age has more than doubled between 1973 and 2012, with a current rate of 8.5 per 100,000 people.
Younger people are less likely to regularly protect their skin from ultraviolet rays, according to a CDC survey, which found that 45 percent of individuals 18 to 24 years old used one or more sun-protection methods, such as wearing sunscreen or protective clothes, while 60 percent of those 25 years old and older did so.
Reid and other medical professionals have pointed to the popularity of tanning beds as one reason rates are rising, especially among young women.
This is because indoor tanning is potentially more harmful due to the greater intensity of the ultra violet radiation emitted.
Using a tanning bed before age 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 percent, the American Cancer Society said, and an extra 2 percent with each indoor tanning session. Even still, 31 percent of white female high school students nationwide used an indoor tanning device in 2014, according to the American Cancer Society. This has lead about a dozen states and several cities and counties to ban indoor tanning for people younger than 18 years old.
A similar bill floated around the Iowa Legislature this year as well as in 2013 and 2014. However, it failed to be approved by the House, Senate and Gov. Terry Branstad.
'There are significant campaigns against tanning and teen practices,' Reid said. 'I think (tanning) was something we've taken for granted for a very long time.'