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HEADLINE STORY: British study: Melanoma might not be increasing

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Sept. 17, 2009 — Allegations that melanoma incidence is increasing have been seriously challenged by a British study which suggests that there may not actually be an increase in melanoma incidence, but that doctors are removing more lesions today and calling them melanomas.

2009-09-17-sun-scare-gaffe-copy.jpgCalling the phenomena “diagnostic drift” the research team from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in England collected data showing that “thick” melanomas are not increasing and that melanoma mortality is not increasing, but that doctors are removing more “thin” lesions and calling them melanoma which is artificially increasing reported incidence data.

In other words, the melanomas doctors are removing today are thin lesions that may not be truly cancerous, in that they were not detectable years ago and that they are not leading to an increase in thicker lesions.

“The large increase in reported incidence is likely to be due to diagnostic drift which classifies benign lesions as stage 1 melanoma,” the group wrote in the paper, “Melanoma epidemic: A midsummer night’s dream” which was published this week in the British Journal of Dermatology. “These findings should lead to a reconsideration of the treatment of ‘early’ lesions, a search for better diagnostic methods to distinguish them from truly malignant melanomas, re-evaluation of the role of ultraviolet radiation and recommendations for protection from it, as well as the need for a new direction in the search for the cause of melanoma.”

The group also pointed out, “There are important additional consequences of the diagnostic drift that our findings have indicated,” the authors wrote. “It may have resulted in unnecessary excisions, health care and insurance costs, let alone the problems and anxieties given to patients and their families.”