How Common Is Skin Cancer?
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: November 2019. | Last updated: March 2020
Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the United States and worldwide.1 At least one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the time they are 70 years old.1 There are more new cases of skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined.1
Most cases of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). These cancers are called “non-melanoma skin cancer.” Melanoma is a much less common type of skin cancer, but it accounts for 75% of all deaths from skin cancer.
Non-melanoma skin cancer: basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma
For most kinds of cancer, we know how common it is because the cases are reported to national registries. However, non-melanoma skin cancer cases are not tracked in cancer registries. Therefore, it is hard to estimate how common these cancers really are.1 One estimate is that 5.4 million basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year in 3.3 million Americans.3,4 (An individual can have more than one skin cancer at a time.) By age 70, about 1 in 5 people will have had a non-melanoma skin cancer in his or her lifetime.5
About 8 out of 10 cases of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, and 2 out of 10 skin cancers are squamous cell carcinoma.2 These cancers are being diagnosed more often than before, probably due to better skin cancer screening, more sun exposure, and people living longer. Most of these cancers can be treated and removed, so death from non-melanoma cancer is rare.2 Approximately 2,000 people in America die each year from these cancers, but this number is dropping steadily.2
Melanoma is much less common than non-melanoma skin cancer: only about 1% of skin cancers are invasive melanoma.3 For 2019, it was estimated that in the United States, approximately 96,480 new diagnoses of melanoma will be made, and approximately 7,230 people will die from the disease.3
Melanoma is more than 20 times more common in non-Hispanic whites than African Americans.3 The lifetime prevalence of melanoma for whites is approximately 1 in 38 (2.6 percent), for Hispanics it is about 1 in 167 (0.6 percent), and for African Americans it is about 1 in 1,000 (0.1 percent).3 Before age 50, women are more likely than men to develop melanoma. However, at age 65, men are twice as likely as women to have melanoma. The risk of melanoma increases as a person ages, but it is not uncommon to see melanoma in young people; it is one of the most common cancers in those under the age of 30, particularly young women.3
Melanoma can be treated and removed when it is caught early. Overall, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 92 percent.4 For melanoma that has not spread, the survival rate at 5 years is 98%.4 However, melanoma is more likely than other skin cancers to spread to lymph nodes or other organs, which makes it more dangerous. The 5-year survival rate is 64 percent for regional melanoma, which is melanoma that has spread to lymph nodes.4 The 5-year survival rate is 23 percent for distant melanoma, which is melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body.4