Experts expect the death rates from malignant melanoma to decline from current levels by 2050, yet the total number of people who die from the disease will increase due to the aging population. The results from this study were presented at the 2017 European Cancer Congress 2017.1

If new therapies are effective, the total number of deaths could also decrease. People born between 1900 and 1960 are at the highest risk of dying from melanoma as the dangerous effects of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation were unknown, and health professionals believed sunlight exposure was beneficial.

“These beliefs were boosted by observations that exposure to ultraviolet light and sunshine could heal some skin infections and rickets, and by the discovery of vitamin D,” explained Alice Koechlin, MS, the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, France, and a co-author of the study.

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“It was common for babies and school children to be treated with commercial UV radiation-emitting devices and exposed, unclothed, to the midday sun.”

Researchers examined whether age, year of birth, or new medical technologies or treatments affected current cancer death rates. They used statistical models to estimate deaths from melanoma between 2014 and 2050 in Australia, the United States, and Sweden.

This study generated 2 estimates. One estimate is based on the assumption that no treatment for melanoma exists, and the other assumption is based on universally available treatment that results in a 25% reduction in death rates from 2015 to 2050.

This study revealed different peaks in death rates from melanoma based on country and gender. Death rates for Australian men peaked around 2015 and around 1990 for Australian women, around 2005 for American men and 1995 for American women, and around 2010 in Swedish men and women.

These results indicate that by 2050, death rates from melanoma in Australia will be 2 times lower than in peak years. When the death rate was adjusted according to age of the population, 9 deaths per 100,000 persons in 2010 fell to 4 deaths per 100,000 persons in 2050 in men. In women, these rates fell from 3.5 to 1.7 per 100,000 persons.

In the United States, these age standardized death rates are expected to fall 2.5 to 3 times. In Sweden, the age standardized death rate is expected to decline 1.5-fold from peak years.

Due to aging in the current populations, the expected total number of deaths from melanoma is expected to increase until 2030-2035. Researchers generated these estimates based on an assumption of no effective treatment for melanoma.

“With an effective therapy, we would expect to see decreases in the number of melanoma deaths from 2030,” explained Koechlin.

“As time passes, melanoma deaths will become steadily rarer in people younger than 50 years, and after 2050, practically all melanoma deaths will occur in people [older than] 70 [years].”

These results indicate that most deaths due to melanoma have been caused by medically supported exposures to UV radiation between 1900 and 1960.


1. Autier P, Koechlin A, Boniol M. Prediction of numbers of melanoma deaths by 2050. Paper presented at: European Cancer Congress 2017; January 27-30, 2017; Amsterdam, Netherlands. Abstract 1144.