Despite the dramatic rise in sunscreen use, melanoma rates continue to rise. Something is definitely wrong with the assumption that the sun’s ultraviolet rays are the exclusive cause of melanoma or skin cancer in general.

Melanoma incidence dramatically rises

The jump in melanoma incidence has been confirmed by a December 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology. The study, from New York University School of Medicine, is based upon American Cancer Society data.The research found that in 2016, about 76,380 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with melanoma. This translates to an incidence rate of 23.6 per 100,000 people.

In addition, the lifetime risk of invasive melanoma rose to 1 in 54 people.This is a significant rise in incidence, as measured similarly in 2009. The 2010 study published in the Journal of Dermatology found that 22.2 per 100,000 people were diagnosed in 2009. This translates to a lifetime risk of invasive melanoma of 1 in 58 people.

Furthermore, the incidence of local (in situ) melanoma has increased even more dramatically over these seven years. The incidence of localised melanoma increased from 1 in 78 people in 2009 to 1 in 58 people in 2016. This is an over 34 percent growth in rates of localised melanoma.

For those of you who think that deaths from melanoma incidence have dropped, you’re in for a surprise. In 2009, deaths from melanoma were 2.8 per 100,000. In 2016, that number jumped to 3.1 per 100,000. This translates to a jump of 8.650 deaths in 2009 to 10,130 deaths in 2016.

The numbers are not easily explained away. According to Alex Glazer, M.D. of the National Society for Cutaneous Medicine:

“There does appear to be an increase in the incidence of melanoma in the US. Some have speculated that this incidence increase is due to the detection of early/in situ lesions alone, but we are seeing increases in all thicknesses of melanoma as well as in the mortality rate associated with melanoma.”

This trend isn’t new. A 2009 study from Stanford University found that between 1992 and 2004, melanoma cancer incidence grew by an average of 3.1 percent per year. This means over the twelve-year period, incidence went up by more than 36 percent.

Comparatively, the change between 2009 and 2016 of 34 percent translates to an annual growth of melanoma of more than 4.8 percent per year.What does this tell us? It says that melanoma rates are now increasing faster than they did prior to 2004.

Non-melanoma skin cancer rates have also been dramatically growing. From 1994 to 2006, skin cancer incidence grew by 79 percent between 1992 and 2006.

Sunscreen use has dramatically increased

The researchers are trying to explain this incredible growth by the increased exposure to UV-rays. Is that really the case?We have seen two clear trends in sunscreen over the past decade:

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) for sunscreens and sunblocks have dramatically increased.

Just ten years ago, SPFs of sunscreens averaged about 15. Higher SPF-rated lotions were more expensive. Today, we find that a SPF of 50 or 100 is available for the lower priced sunscreens. A sunscreen lotion with only SPF15 is now uncommon.

Sales of sunscreen or sunblock lotions with these greater SPF numbers have also dramatically increased.

According to research data from Statista, the 2009 market value of sun protection lotions (sunscreens and sunblocks) was 1.209 billion U.S. dollars. In 2016, that number has burgeoned to 1.588 billion. This is a growth of over 31 percent over the same number of years that localised melanoma rates have risen by over 34 percent.

Increased sales of sun protection lotions (sunblock) with climbing SPF factors can only mean one thing. Ultraviolet sun exposure has been dramatically dropping. If you went to the beach this past summer, or are vacationing in a tropical place this winter, the contrast is clear. You will see practically everyone putting on one of these high-SPF sunscreen or sunblock lotions.

Why haven’t these dramatic increases in sunscreens and sunblocks translated to reduced melanoma rates?

Because melanoma is not exclusively an issue of ultraviolet protection.

The Environmental Working Group has summarised this problem well:

“However, despite record growth of the sunscreen market, American melanoma diagnoses are on the rise. Explanations for this trend are elusive.”