Skin Cancer in the U.S.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in humans. It is estimated that over 1 million new cases occur annually in the United States and that 1 out of 7 people will develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime. It has been estimated that nearly half of all Americans that live to age 65 will develop skin cancer.

Skin Cancer Statistics

  • More than half of all new cancers are skin cancers.

  • More then 1.3 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2007, about 80 percent are basal cell carcinoma, 16 percent are squamous cell carcinoma and 4 percent are melanoma.

  • In 2007, an estimated 10,000 people will die of skin cancer - 8,000 from melanoma and 2,000 from squamous cell carcinoma.

  • In 2007, there will be about 53,000 new cases of melanoma - 30,000 men and 23,000 women. At current rates one in 71 Americans have a lifetime risk of developing melanoma.

  • One person dies of melanoma every hour.

Types of Skin Cancer

There are three main types of skin cancer: the two most common are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These cancers arise within the top layers of the skin and usually appear on sun-exposed areas of the body, including the face, neck, and arms, as a scaly area or bump that persists and bleeds. With a 95 percent cure rate, these skin cancers are easily treated and rarely fatal, although treatment may result in some level of scarring.

The third and most dangerous form of skin cancer is malignant melanoma. Each year more than 50,000 people in the United States find out they have melanoma. This type of skin cancer can appear without warning or it may develop from or near a mole. Treatment is essential because of the danger of melanoma spreading throughout the body. Although melanomas can develop anywhere on the body, women most often develop them on their legs while men develop them on their chest and back. The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change in the skin, especially a new growth or a sore that doesn't heal.

Risk Factors

The risk factors for developing skin cancer are:

  • Overexposure to ultraviolet light is the greatest risk factor for skin cancer.
  • Excessive sun exposure in the first 18 years of life increases the chances of developing melanoma.
  • Caucasians with fair skin have four times the risk of developing melanoma as Caucasians with olive skin.
  • Individuals with a history of melanoma as well as individuals that have many moles, large moles, or atypical (unusual) moles are at a substantially increased risk of developing skin cancer.
  • Redheads and blondes have a twofold to fourfold increased risk of developing melanoma.
  • A family history of melanoma increases the likelihood of developing the disease.

Exponential Growth in Melanoma

As seen in the following chart, melanoma rates have tripled for men over past 30 years and more than doubled for women.

Source: Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program (www.seer.cancer.gov) SEER*Stat Database: Incidence - SEER 17 Regs Limited-Use, Nov 2006 Sub (1973-2004 varying) - Linked To County Attributes - Total U.S., 1969-2004 Counties, National Cancer Institute, DCCPS, Surveillance Research Program, Cancer Statistics Branch, released April 2007, based on the November 2006 submission

Melanoma and the Baby Boomers

As shown in the chart below, while people aged 50 and over represent only 27% of the US population, they account for 63% of all malignant melanoma diagnoses. Over the next decade, the baby boom generation will be diagnosed with melanoma in increasing numbers.
Seniors are also predicted to become a larger proportion of the overall population in the future - people aged 50 and over are projected to represent 36% of the population by 2025.

Source: Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program (www.seer.cancer.gov) SEER*Stat Database: Incidence - SEER 17 Regs Limited-Use, Nov 2006 Sub (1973-2004 varying) - Linked To County Attributes - Total U.S., 1969-2004 Counties, National Cancer Institute, DCCPS, Surveillance Research Program, Cancer Statistics Branch, released April 2007, based on the November 2006 submission.

Skin Cancer Prevention

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. Protection from ultraviolet light, such as with sun protection clothing, can help prevent skin cancer as 90 percent of all skin cancers are due to lack of sun protection.

Treatment

Prevention, early detection, and treatment of skin cancer are crucial for survival. When detected early, dermatological surgical removal of thin melanomas and the majority of basal and squamous cell carcinomas can cure the disease in most cases. Early detection is essential as there is a direct correlation between the thickness of the melanoma and survival rates. In addition to surgical removal, other treatments include radiation therapy, electrodessication (tissue destruction by heat), cryosurgery (tissue destruction by freezing) and laser therapy for early skin cancer.