Skin cancer

Incidence rates

  • Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.1,2
  • More than 3.5 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are diagnosed in more than 2 million people in the United States every year.3
    • A 2005 study found that basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are increasing in men and women under 40. In the study, basal cell carcinoma increased faster in young women than in young men.
  • It is estimated that 137,310 new cases of melanoma, 63,440 noninvasive (in situ) and 73,870 invasive, will be diagnosed in 2015.5
    • Invasive melanoma is projected to be the fifth most common cancer for men (42,670 cases) and the seventh most common cancer for women (31,200 cases) in 2015.5
  • By 2015, it is estimated that one in 50 Americans will develop melanoma in their lifetime.6
  • Caucasians and men older than 50 are at a higher risk of developing melanoma than the general population.7  
    • The incidence in men ages 80 and older is three times higher than women of the same age.5
    • The annual incidence rate of melanoma in non-Hispanic Caucasians is 25 per 100,000, compared to 4 per 100,000 in Hispanics and 1 per 100,000 in African-Americans.5
  • Before age 50, melanoma incidence rates are higher in women than in men, but by age 60, rates are twice as high in men as in women.5
    • Melanoma in Caucasian women younger than 44 has increased 6.1 percent annually, which may reflect recent trends in indoor tanning.7
  • Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old.8
    • Melanoma is increasing faster in females 15-29 years old than in males of the same age group.9,10 
  • From 1973 to 2004, melanoma incidence among males age 15 to 39 increased by 61 percent, while incidence among females in the same age group more than doubled.11
  • While melanoma in children is extremely rare, from 1973 to 2009, the rate of melanoma increased by about 2 percent per year among Caucasian children from newborn to age 19 in the United States.12

Survival rates

  • Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, the two most common forms of skin cancer, are highly curable if detected early and treated properly.5,13
  • The five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98 percent.5
  • Five-year survival rates for regional and distant stage melanomas are 63 percent and 16 percent, respectively.5

Mortality rates

  • Approximately 75 percent of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma.14  
  • On average, one American dies from melanoma every hour. In 2015, it is estimated that 9,940 deaths will be attributed to melanoma — 6,640 men and 3,300 women.5    
  • According to a recent study, men diagnosed with melanoma between the ages of 15 and 39 were 55 percent more likely to die from melanoma than females diagnosed with melanoma in the same age group.15
  • An estimated 6,230 deaths from skin cancers other than melanoma and NMSC will occur in the United States in 2015.5
  • The World Health Organization estimates that more than 65,000 people a year worldwide die from melanoma.16

Risk factors

  • Exposure to natural and artificial ultraviolet (UV) light is a risk factor for all types of skin cancer.5
    • Avoiding this risk factor alone could prevent more than 3 million cases of skin cancer every year.14
    • More people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.17
  • Increasing intermittent sun exposure in childhood and during one’s lifetime is associated with an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma.18
    • Sustaining five or more blistering sunburns between ages 15 and 20 increases one’s  melanoma risk by 80 percent and nonmelanoma skin cancer risk by 68 percent.19
    • In 2010, new research found that daily sunscreen use cut the incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in half.20  
  • Exposure to tanning beds increases the risk of melanoma, especially in women 45 and younger.21
    • In females 15 to 29 years old, the torso/trunk is the most common location for developing melanoma, which may be due to high-risk tanning behaviors.10,22
  • Risk factors for all types of skin cancer include skin that burns easily; blond or red hair; a history of excessive sun exposure, including sunburns; tanning bed use; immune system-suppressing diseases or treatments; and a history of skin cancer.5
    • People with more than 50 moles, atypical moles, or large moles are at an increased risk of developing melanoma, as are those with light skin and freckles, and those with a personal or family history of melanoma.5,23
  • Melanoma survivors have an approximately nine-fold increased risk of developing another melanoma compared to the general population.24
  • Men and women with a history of nonmelanoma skin cancer are at a higher risk of developing melanoma than people without a nonmelanoma skin cancer history.25
  • Women with a history of nonmelanoma skin cancer are at a higher risk of developing leukemia, breast, kidney and lung cancers, and men with a history of nonmelanoma skin cancer are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. 25

Prevention and detection

  • Because exposure to UV light is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers14, the American Academy of Dermatology encourages everyone to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing and using a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of 30 or higher.
    • Because severe sunburns during childhood may increase one’s risk of melanoma, children should be especially protected from the sun.5
  • People should not use tanning beds or sun lamps, which are sources of artificial UV radiation that may cause skin cancer.5
  • Skin cancer warning signs include changes in size, shape or color of a mole or other skin lesion, the appearance of a new growth on the skin, or a sore that doesn't heal. If you notice any spots on your skin that are different from the others, or anything changing, itching or bleeding, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist.
  • The American Academy of Dermatology encourages everyone to perform skin self-exams to check for signs of skin cancer and get a skin exam from a doctor. A dermatologist can make individual recommendations as to how often a person needs these exams based on risk factors, including skin type, history of sun exposure and family history.
  • Individuals with a history of melanoma should have a full-body exam by a board-certified dermatologist at least annually and perform regular self-exams to check for new and changing moles.26


  • From 2007 to 2011, about 4.9 million adults were treated for melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer every year, up from about 3.4 million each year from 2002 to 2006.27
  • The annual cost of treating skin cancers in the U.S. is estimated at $8.1 billion— about $4.8 billion for nonmelanoma skin cancers and $3.3 billion for melanoma.27

Learn more about skin cancer:
Dermatology A to Z: Basal cell carcinoma
Dermatology A to Z: Melanoma 
Dermatology A to Z: Squamous cell carcinoma
Skin cancer detection 
Skin cancer prevention 

1 Stern RS. Prevalence of a history of skin cancer in 2007: results of an incidence-based model. Arch Dermatol. 2010 Mar;146(3):279-82.
2 Robinson JK. Sun Exposure, Sun Protection, and Vitamin D. JAMA 2005; 294: 1541-43.
3 Rogers, HW, Weinstock, MA, Harris, AR, et al. Incidence estimate of nonmelanoma skin cancer in the United States, 2006. Arch Dermatol 2010; 146(3):283-287.
4 Christenson, LJ, Borrowman, TA, Vachon, CM, et al. Incidence of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas in a population younger than 40 years. JAMA 2005 Aug 10; 294(6): 681-90.
5 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2015. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2015.
6 Rigel DS, Russak J, Friedman R. The evolution of melanoma diagnosis: 25 years beyond the ABCDs. CA Cancer J Clin. 2010 Sep-Oct;60(5):301-16.
7 Little EG, Eide MJ. Update on the current state of melanoma incidence. Dermatol Clin. 2012:30(3):355-61.
8 Melanoma of the Skin, Cancer Fact Sheets, National Cancer Institute, SEER database, 2007.
9 Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, et al. SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2008, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD,, based on November 2010 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, 2011.
10 Cancer Epidemiology in Older Adolescents & Young Adults. SEER AYA Monograph Pages 53-57. 2007. 
11 Purdue MP, Freeman LEB, Anderson WF, Tucker MA. Recent trends in incidence of cutaneous melanoma among US Caucasian young adults. Journ Invest Dermatol 2008; 128:2905-2908; doi:10.1038/jid.2008.159; published online 10 July 2008.
12 Wong JR, Harris JK, Rodriguez-Galindo C, et al. Incidence of Childhood and Adolescent Melanoma in the United States: 1973. Pediatrics Vol. 131 No. 5 May 1, 2013; pp. 846 -854 doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-2520.
13 Neville JA, Welch E, Leffell DJ. Management of nonmelanoma skin cancer in 2007. Nat Clin Pract Oncol 2007; 4(8):462-9. 
14 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2014. Atlanta: American Cancer Society 2014
15 Gamba CS, Clarke CA, Keegan TM, et al. Melanoma Survival Disadvantage in Young, Non-Hispanic White Males Compared With Females. JAMA Dermatol. 2013;149(8):912-920. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.4408
16 World Health Organization, Solar ultraviolet radiation:  Global burden of disease from solar ultraviolet radiation. Environmental Burden of Disease Series, N.13. 2006.
17 Wehner M, Chren M-M, Nameth D, et al. International prevalence of indoor tanning: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Dermatol 2014; 150(4):390-400. Doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.6896.
18 Lin JS, Eder M, Weinmann S. Behavioral counseling to prevent skin cancer: asystematic review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med.2011 Feb 1;154(3):190-201. Review.
19 Wu S, Han J, Laden F, Qureshi AA. Long-term ultraviolet flux, other potential risk factors, and skin cancer risk: a cohort study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomar Prev; 2014. 23(6); 1080-1089.
20 Green AC, Williams GM, Logan V, Strutton GM. Reduced melanoma after regular sunscreen use: randomized trial follow-up J Clin Oncol Jan 20, 2011:257-263; published online on December 6, 2010.
21 Ting W, Schultz K, Cac NN, Peterson M, Walling HW. Tanning bed exposure increases the risk of malignant melanoma. Int J Dermatol. 2007 Dec;46(12):1253-7.
22 Linos E, Swetter S, Cockburn MG, Colditz GA, Clarke CA. Increasing burden of melanoma in the United States. J Invest Derm. 8 January 2009 doi:10.1038/jid.2008.423 
23 Gandini S, Sera F, Cattaruzza MS, Pasquini P, Picconi O, Boyle P, Melchi CF. Meta-analysis of risk factors for cutaneous melanoma: II. Sun exposure. Eur J Cancer. 2005 Jan;41(1):45-60.
24 Bradford PT, Freedman DM, Goldstein AM, Tucker MA. Increased risk of second primary cancers after a diagnosis of melanoma. Arch Dermatol. 2010 Mar;146(3):265-72.
25 Song F, Qureshi AA, Giovannucci EL, et al. (2013) Risk of a Second Primary Cancer after Non-melanoma Skin Cancer in White Men and Women: A Prospective Cohort Study. PLoS Med 10(4): e1001433. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001433
26 Berg A. Screening for skin cancer. US Preventive Services Task Force, 2007.
27 Guy GP, Machlin S, Ekwueme DU, Yabroff KR. Prevalence and costs of skin cancer treatment in the US, 2002–2006 and 2007–2011. Am J Prev Med.In press 2014.


Dermatology A to Z