Dramatic increase of skin cancer in Norway - is the pandemic to blame?
New cancer statistics show that melanoma increased by nearly 500 cases last year in Norway. That is a 20 per cent increase in just one year.
The overall cancer incidence in Norway is relatively stable compared to the previous year, but some cancer types are increasing, particularly melanoma, also known as skin cancer.
This is according to the Cancer Registry Norway's report Cancer in Norway 2022, which was recently published.
In 2022, 2,911 people were diagnosed with melanoma. That is 468 more cases than the previous year.
There has been an increase in all age groups.
“But the most significant growth is found among the elderly,” the director of the Cancer Registry, Giske Ursin, said in a comment on the Norwegian Cancer Society's website.
Is the pandemic to blame?
The Cancer Registry cannot pinpoint the exact reasons for the dramatic increase in melanoma.
“We don't know exactly why we are experiencing such a significant jump from 2021 to 2022,” Ursin says.
However, she does point to Covid-19 as a possible cause and suspects that there may have been cases that went undetected until 2022.
Melanoma is linked to sunbathing habits. Many people have had repeated sun damage throughout their lives, she explains.
Norwegians at the top of the list
Melanoma has been increasing over several years.
“The fact that we now see the increase continuing is dramatic,” secretary general Ingrid S. Ross of the Cancer Society says (link in Norwegian).
Norwegian residents are at the top of the list both in the number of cases and the number of deaths from melanoma in the world.
Australia is also among the countries with the highest number of cases.
“Approximately nine out of ten cases are related to excessive sun exposure and sunbeds,” Ross says.
She expects the government to take the numbers seriously and points out that Australia has managed to reverse the trend.
“They have implemented sun protection measures in nurseries and schools, and the indoor tanning industry has been phased out,” she explains.
Most serious form of skin cancer
- Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer.
- It is the second most common cancer type in the 25-50 age group.
- The increase in Norway is happening among both genders and is fairly evenly distributed across the country. However, the increase is strongest among women.
- In 2022, there were 2,911 new cases registered. Of these, 1,462 were men and 1,449 were women.
- 295 individuals died of the disease last year.
In total, 38,265 new cancer cases were registered in Norway in 2022. This is a slight increase from the previous year when 36,998 new cases were registered.
However, from 2020 to 2021, there was an increase of 1,483 cancer cases, which corresponds to a 4.2 per cent increase.
This is a larger increase than in previous years.
“A small increase in cancer figures is expected, as we are constantly growing in population and an increasing proportion of the population is elderly,” Giske Ursin says.
However, the increase is greater than normal.
“The increase we see from 2020 to 2021 can partly be explained by the fact that the figures for 2020 were lower than expected. 2020 was a special year where infection control measures affected cancer diagnostics,” Ursin says (link in Norwegian).
According to the Cancer Register, there may have been some underreporting during the pandemic, including a period where the mammography program had to be halted. But much of this backlog was caught up in 2021.
Record number of new breast cancer cases in Norway last year
4,224 women in Norway were diagnosed with breast cancer last year. This is the highest number ever recorded.
For breast cancer, the increase from 2020 to 2021 was 567 cases, a whopping 15 per cent increase.
“And what we see is that the increase in breast cancer is not limited to the target group for the screening program, 50-69 years old. We see an increase among both older and younger women this year. Not least, we see an increase among women over 80 years old. This development surprises us a little, so we will continue to monitor it,” Ursin says.
The incidence rates for certain types of cancer are increasing
The age-adjusted rate for cancer declined until 2020. However, the rate has increased again for several cancer types, including breast, ovarian, and lung cancer among women, as well as melanoma among men.
Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer. There were 5,474 new cases detected among men in 2022.
This is followed by breast cancer among women, with 4,224 cases.
Decline in lung cancer
However, the numbers are moving in the right direction for lung cancer. A total of 3,534 men and women were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2022.
There are still many elderly individuals who develop the disease, but the incidence among men peaked between 2000 and 2010, while women reached their peak year in 2018, according to NTB.
Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik.