There could be half a million cases of melanoma globally in 2040 and almost 100,000 deaths, researchers warn, saying the cancer remains an important public health challenge, especially in fair-skinned populations of European descent.

In a population-based study using data from the GLOBOCAN 2020 database for global epidemiological assessment of new cases and deaths due to invasive melanoma, researchers estimated there were 325,000 new melanoma cases and 57,000 deaths globally in 2020.

If 2020 rates remained stabled, the study, published in JAMA Dermatology, estimated there would be 510,000 cases of melanoma worldwide in 2040 (a 50% increase) and 96,000 deaths (a 68% increase).

‘This population-based epidemiological study found that melanoma constituted a considerable cancer burden in 2020 and was largely concentrated in highly developed countries, predominantly inhabited by people of European origin, with lighter skin pigmentation and therefore higher susceptibility to the carcinogenic effects of solar radiation,’ the authors wrote.

‘Decreases in incidence and mortality rates would need to be greater than 2% globally to ensure there would be fewer melanoma cases in 2040 than there were in 2020.’

The highest melanoma incidence was in Australia and New Zealand, followed by Western Europe, North America, and Western Europe.

Melanoma remained rare in most parts of Africa, South and Central America and Asia, yet the global share of deaths relative to cases remained disproportionately high in Asia and Africa compared with other world regions.

Melanoma was more common in men than women in most parts of the world, the study found, however this differed by age, with rates in women exceeding those in men before 50 years of age.

‘Sex differences also exist with respect to the anatomic localization of the lesion; melanoma is more frequent on the trunk in men and on the lower limbs in women,’ the authors wrote.

‘The reasons for this are still poorly understood, and it remains to be uncovered how much of the melanoma development can be attributed to gender role-specific behaviours or to biologically intrinsic differences, notably the role of sex hormones.’

Melanoma was the most serious skin cancer due to its high potential for metastasis, the study authors said, yet it was largely preventable.

‘Despite the increasing global melanoma burden, many cases and deaths may be averted through effective public health measures that target primary prevention and early detection combined with curative treatment,’ they concluded.

Last year, Ade Williams told The Pharmacist how community pharmacy can and should contribute to tackling the backlog in cancer diagnosis.