Skin cancer is the most common cancer¹ in America. Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime: that’s 9,500 new skin cancer diagnoses in the U.S. per day. Read on to find out some important facts and figures about skin cancer.
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Skin cancer is the unregulated growth of abnormal skin cells. There are two main types of skin cancer: melanomas and non-melanoma skin cancers. The non-melanoma skin cancers can be divided into basal cell carcinomas (BCC) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCC).
BCC and SCC are far more common globally and in the U.S. than melanomas, but their prevalence is often under-reported. The reason for this is that BCC and SCC are non-aggressive, slow-growing cancers that are usually fully treated by general practitioners.
There is no requirement for BCC or SCC to be listed on the national cancer registry in the U.S., so it’s difficult to collate accurate data about these extremely common cancers.
Melanomas are more aggressive cancers that are usually managed by specialists, so reporting of melanomas is far more regulated. Although melanomas are not as common as non-melanoma skin cancers, the data for their prevalence is more accurate and easily accessible.
The prevalence of non-melanoma skin cancers increased by about 77%² in the U.S. between 1994 and 2014. Current estimates for 2021 are that three million Americans are affected by either BCC or SCC.
It’s not only the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancers that has increased over the past three decades. Melanoma rates have doubled¹ in the U.S. between 1982 and 2011, and currently, more than one million Americans are living with melanoma.
It is estimated that the number of new melanoma diagnoses will increase by 5.8% in 2021².
The melanoma data¹ for the last decade is interesting because the incidence has been rising in some groups, yet decreasing in others.
Rates among adolescents and people under the age of 30 have been dropping, while the prevalence in older generations has been increasing.
This could be attributable to both the increased education and awareness about sun protection as well as the decreased use of tanning beds in the past decade³.
There is a similar trend of increasing incidence of skin cancer globally as there is in the U.S. Worldwide, it is estimated⁴ that two to three million people will be given a new diagnosis of non-melanoma skin cancer this year and around 132,000 a diagnosis of melanoma.
Decreasing ozone levels mean that more ultraviolet radiation from the sun reaches the earth each year. We know that UV radiation is a carcinogen² and is responsible for causing 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 86% of melanoma skin cancers.
The World Health Organisation⁴ (WHO) estimates that each 10% reduction in the ozone layer will result in an extra 300,000 non-melanoma diagnoses and 4,500 melanoma cases.
Skin cancer rates do differ in various countries. There isn’t hugely reliable data for non-melanoma skin cancers, but there is accurate data⁵ for melanomas. This is how various countries stack up:
Southern hemisphere vs. northern hemisphere
Because of the elliptical orbit of the earth around the sun (which means that when the sun is strongest, the southern hemisphere is 3.4% closer to the sun than the north is during their summer) as well as decreased levels of pollution in the southern hemisphere, locations in the southern hemisphere receive about 15% more radiation than the equivalent northern latitude location⁶ in any given year.
The other geographical feature that increases the risk of developing all skin cancers is higher altitude: the air is thinner and UV radiation relatively stronger the higher up you go.
Population demographics play a role in skin cancer prevalence, with fair-skinned, blonde or red-haired, and green- or blue-eyed people at increased risk of developing skin cancers.
Those with a personal or family history of skin cancer and older populations will also have a higher prevalence of skin cancer.
Only melanomas are required to be registered on the U.S. cancer registry, so accurate data only exists for the new diagnosis of melanoma in different states, not for the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancers.
The states with the highest rates of new melanoma diagnoses include:
States with the lowest rates of new diagnoses of melanoma include:
There are numerous factors at play in determining melanoma rates in different states, including the age and ethnic composition of the populations of the various states.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association¹, the following factors influence the likelihood of developing skin cancer:
When we talk about survival in cancer, we commonly use the term “five-year survival rate.” What that essentially means is the percentage of people who are still alive five years after being diagnosed.
As with most of the statistics around skin cancer, the most accurate numbers about skin cancer survival are about melanoma because cases of melanoma are tracked in national cancer registries. As we have seen, BCC and SCC cases do not have to be registered on the U.S. cancer registry.
The survival rates for BCC and SCC are very high if the cancers are detected early and treated properly.
The average five-year survival rate for melanoma is 92.7%². This means that out of 100 people diagnosed with melanoma at any stage, almost 93 will still be alive five years after diagnosis. The five-year survival rate for melanomas that are caught very early, before they have spread, is 99%.
The five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma has spread² to nearby lymph nodes is around 66%. Once the melanoma has spread to distant lymph nodes and other organs, the five-year survival rate drops to 27%.
The vast majority of skin cancer deaths are from melanomas. The mortality rate of melanoma⁷ in the U.S. in 2018 was two people per 100,000 (or 0.002%). It is estimated¹ that in 2021 7,180 deaths will be attributable to melanoma: 4,600 men and 2,580 women. Men with melanomas generally have lower survival rates than women.
Skin Cancer | American Academy of Dermatology Association
Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics | Skin Cancer Foundation
Melanoma: Statistics | Cancer.Net
Radiation: Ultraviolet (UV) radiation and skin cancer | World Health Organization
Skin cancer statistics | World Cancer Research Fund