5 Disturbing Facts About Skin Cancer

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Skin cancer is often considered a "mild" type of cancer -- readily treatable and nothing much to worry about. However, it should never be taken lightly. What you don't know about skin cancer may disfigure or even kill you.

1. Over one million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in 2009. It's the most common type of cancer in the U.S. -- 1.3 million cases annually. In fact, there are more new cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined.

Almost 50% of Americans who live to age 65 will get skin cancer at least once.

2. Skin cancer is one of the few cancers that's becoming more common. The incidence of melanoma continues to rise significantly, at a rate faster than that of any of the seven most common cancers. Fortunately, although melanoma deaths increased by about 33% from 1975 to 1990, they have remained relatively stable since 1990.

3. Skin cancer strikes people of all ages and races. Although elderly whites are most afflicted with skin cancer, melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25 to 29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults. Also, while melanoma is uncommon in African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians, it is frequently fatal for people of these backgrounds.

4. There is no such thing as a safe tan. A tan is the skin's response to genetic damage due to ultraviolet radiation.

About 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun. One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life. A person's risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns at any age.

Tanning salons aren't any better: Exposure to tanning beds while young increases melanoma risk by 75%, and people who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.

5. Skin cancer will kill more than 11,000 Americans this year alone. This is the most disturbing fact of them all. More than 8,600 will succumb to melanoma and 2,500 will die due to complications from squamous cell carcinoma. More than 20 Americans die each day from skin cancer, primarily melanoma -- one person every 62 minutes. The survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early, before the tumor has penetrated the skin, is about 99%. The survival rate falls to 15% for those with advanced disease.

Despite these sobering facts, the good news is that skin cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable of all cancers.


"What You Need to Know about Skin Cancer." National Cancer Institute. July 2002. 21 September 2009.

"Skin Cancer Facts." Skin Cancer Foundation. 21 September 2009.

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