How Common Is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the United States.1 There are more new cases of skin cancer each year than breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers combined.2

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.4 Most of these cancers can be treated and removed, so death from non-melanoma cancer is rare.4

The number of new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer is on the rise.3 In particular, it seems that there may be an increase in squamous cell cancers relative to basal cell carcinoma.3 The increase may be due to better detection, more sun exposure, and longer life expectancy.4

Melanoma

Melanoma is much less common than non-melanoma skin cancer: only about 1% of skin cancers are invasive melanoma.6 In 2017, there will be about 87,110 new cases of melanoma.1

Melanoma is more common in non-Hispanic whites (26 cases per 100,000 people per year) than blacks (1 case per 100,000 people per year) or Hispanics (5 cases per 100,000 people per year).1 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. By age 80, men are three times as likely to have melanoma.1 Melanoma is far more common today than it was 30 years ago.1 However, the number of new cases in people younger than 50 has begun to stabilize.

Melanoma can be treated and removed when it is caught early – and about 84% of cases are caught before they spread.1,7 For melanoma that has not spread, the survival rate at 5 years is 98%. However, melanoma is more likely than other skin cancers to spread to lymph nodes or other organs, which makes it more dangerous.6 The 5-year survival rate is 62% for regional melanoma, which is melanoma that has spread to lymph nodes. The 5-year survival rate is 18% for distant melanoma, which is melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body.1 In 2017, about 9,730 people are expected to die from melanoma.1

Written by: Sarah O'Brien | Last reviewed: April 2017.
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