The Sky Isn't Falling

by Russ Roberts on August 9, 2005

in Uncategorized

Turns out skin cancer may not be getting any worse.  From the NYT (rr):

The nation is in the grip of what looks like a terrifying melanoma
epidemic: melanoma is being diagnosed at more than double the rate it
was in 1986, increasing faster than any other major cancer.

But
why the numbers are increasing is a contentious subject, so touchy that
one dermatologist called it "the third rail of dermatology."

Many
dermatologists argue that melanoma, the most deadly of the skin
cancers, is in fact becoming more common. And they recommend regular
skin cancer screening as the best way to save lives. But some
specialists say that what the numbers represent is not an epidemic of
skin cancer but an epidemic of skin cancer screening, and a new study
lends support to this view.

In the study, published in the current issue of The British Medical
Journal, Dr. H. Gilbert Welch of the Department of Veterans Affairs in
White River Junction, Vt., and Dartmouth Medical School and his
colleagues analyzed melanoma’s changing incidence and death rate over
time.

The researchers used Medicare data to track the swift
rise in melanoma cases since 1986 and data compiled by the National
Cancer Institute to track the death rate and the number of people with
early and late-stage disease.

They found that since 1986, skin
biopsies have risen by 250 percent, a figure nearly the same as the
rise in the incidence of early stage melanoma. But there was no change
in the melanoma death rate. And the incidence of advanced disease also
did not change, the researchers found.

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