Melanoma has the distinction of being one of the most preventable cancers as well as one that is fast on the rise, according to the latest statistics from the Canadian Cancer Society.
The rate of melanoma has increased about 50 per cent among men and about 40 per cent among women since 1986.
And over the last eight years, melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — has accelerated 2.6 per cent annually among women.
“We know that this year 570 Albertans will be diagnosed with melanoma and we anticipate the death rate will be about 100 people,” said Evie Espheter, public policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, Alberta/NWT Division, on Wednesday.
“Melanoma is very, very serious. If you don’t catch it early, your prognosis is not very good. It causes 80 per cent of skin cancer deaths.”
She said skin cancer is also one of the most preventable types of cancer and the society is raising the alarm about the risks of using tanning beds.
“Melanoma is associated with intermittent, high intensity UV exposure and that is consistent with the type of exposure in a tanning bed,” said Espheter, of Calgary.
In 2009, the World Health Organization upgraded the classification of tanning beds to a known carcinogen, the same as tobacco or asbestos and reported that using a tanning bed even 10 times increases the risk of melanoma by 50 per cent.
The WHO also recommended legislation to prevent young people from using indoor tanning beds.
In Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan are the only provinces that do not regulate youth access to indoor tanning equipment.
Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne said Wednesday a new law will be introduced later this year that will keep people under 18 out of tanning beds.
Parental consent is an option that will likely be considered in Alberta, said Horne, but it’s not something he supports.
He said he hopes other members of cabinet will back the bill when it’s tabled in the fall.
“I think many of them will. I’ve talked to many of them about it already.”
Espheter said nearly one in three 17-year-olds in Alberta have used tanning beds.
“We know that melanoma is one the most common forms of skin cancer among the 15 to 29 age group.”
Only thyroid and testicular cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma are more common for this age group.
She also encouraged people to practise good outdoor sun safety by using sunscreen, covering up and staying in the shade.
“No tan is a safe tan.”
Ideally, the Canadian Cancer Society would like to see a movement embracing natural skin tones, Espheter said.
“People don’t realize tanned skin is damaged skin. Melanocytes release pigmentation because they’re damaged. You don’t even have to have a tan to have damaged skin.”
According to the Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014 report:
— An estimated 6,500 new cases of malignant melanoma and 76,100 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are expected in 2014.
— One in 59 Canadian men will develop melanoma in his lifetime. One in 240 will die from it.
— One in 73 Canadian women will develop melanoma in her lifetime. One in 395 will die from it.
— Together, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers (squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma) will account for nearly the same number of new cancer cases as the four major cancers combined (lung, breast, colorectal and prostate).