If I were to ask you to name five organs in the human body, which ones would you choose? Brain, heart, kidney, liver, spleen might be the first to spring to mind. Picking five more might prove to be more difficult. Let’s go endocrine: Thyroid, parathyroid, pancreas, adrenal, ovaries (or testes).

But one organ — the largest one in fact — often gets overlooked. This important organ (okay, they’re all important!) protects the body from potential microbial and toxic invaders, is key in regulating body temperature, and pretty much keeps us all together in one place. It’s also experiencing an increased incidence of a serious cancer that affects mostly teens and young adults, according to a new, concerning study presented by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

In the 35,000 cases of malignant melanoma studied between 1973 and 2011, 98% occurred in people 15-39 years of age. A majority of those, reports Mary Elizabeth Dallas, were women:

Melanoma, the potentially deadly skin cancer, has increased by 250 percent among U.S. children and young adults since the 1970s, researchers report.

Young women appear to be especially vulnerable, accounting for two-thirds of cases diagnosed in 2011, scientists at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., reported.

“The reality is that melanoma is the third most common cancer in those 15 to 39 years old, and these numbers have been steadily increasing,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. Nikhil Khushalani, section chief for soft tissue and melanoma at the cancer institute.


The researchers also found that melanomas have been getting more aggressive lately:

While 4 percent of melanoma cases diagnosed before 1980 were classified as noninvasive and early stage, these cancers accounted for more than 20 percent of all cases by 2011, the study also found.

“Given the epidemic rise of melanoma cases diagnosed among children, adolescents and young adults, it is imperative that new research initiatives are implemented, genetic and environmental risk factors identified, and effective prevention and screening strategies employed,” the study’s lead author, oncology fellow Dr. Demytra Mitsis, said in the news release.


Skin tanning from natural sunlight and artificial tanning beds are believed to be the root of the problem. Last month we looked at some “Tips for Sun Safety” here; we’ve looked at the dangers of tanning beds previously here and here.

Our skin takes a beating over a lifetime; that’s kind of its job. But your skin’s health should be nurtured, not taken for granted.

Be careful out there this summer!