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Skin Smart Campus

College of Public Health


Facts about Melanoma and Skin Cancer

Did you know?

1. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and its incidence is rising faster than that of any other type of cancer.

2. In most cases, melanoma arises from an existing mole on your body, and it may spread to other parts of the body if not diagnosed and treated early. This spreading is called "metastasis." A metastatic cancer is labeled as Stage IV cancer, which is the highest and hardest to treat stage of cancer.

3. There is an estimated 3% increase in melanoma cases each year. An estimated 63,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed annually. There will be about 8,000 deaths annually related to malignant melanoma and another 2,500 deaths from non-melanoma skin cancers. 

4. Melanoma accounts for only 5% of all skin cancers but 71% of all skin cancer deaths. It is estimated that 1 in every 50 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma, and that every 50 minutes a person dies from melanoma complications. 

5. Although the average age of diagnosis is 52 years old, melanoma is the second most common cancer found in people aged 15-29.

6. Melanoma can arise at any age. However, it most commonly arises after puberty.

7. When melanoma is detected at an early stage, surgical removal is curative in most cases. This is why getting your skin examined by a dermatologist annually is an important step in your overall health maintenance. 

8. Genetic factors are important risk factors for melanoma. The familial tendency to develop melanoma, large moles, and atypical moles increases the risk of developing melanoma.

9. Overexposure to UV radiation in sunlight is a contributing factor to many cases of melanoma, but short periods of intense exposure, such as sunbathing and tanning bed use is associated with higher risk.

10. The warning signs for skin cancer include a spot on the skin that is changing in size, shape, or color. In addition, a wound that does not heal is concerning for skin cancer.

11. Careful skin self-examination is associated with reductions in late-stage melanoma diagnoses. Know your moles! Keep track of the moles you have and note any changes. If you see changes, consult a Primary Care Physician or Dermatologist! 

12. Patient or family-discovered melanoma accounts for more than half of all melanoma diagnoses. Listen to your family or friend if they tell you about a suspicious mole on your body! 

13. Thirty percent of all melanoma in men occur on the back. Ask your doctor to examine your skin carefully for atypical moles and spots.


Who is at Risk for Melanoma?

People of any age and of any race can develop melanoma. However, some people are more at risk than others. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you will develop a melanoma. Risk factors for melanoma include:

  1. Being a white male over the age of 50 years
    Although people of any race and age can develop melanoma, people in the above demographic are at higher risk for developing and dying from melanoma. In this group, melanomas are most commonly found on the back. However, melanomas are also common on the scalp. Melanomas on the scalp have a higher mortality rate than melanomas found anywhere else. This is because they are usually diagnosed late.
  2. Having family members with a history of melanomas
    Melanomas can run in families. The more family members you have with melanoma, the higher your risk is of developing melanoma. Some of the genes found in people with familial melanoma have been identified and can be tested for. 
  3. Having atypical (dysplastic) mole
    Atypical or dysplastic moles are a common. People with atypical moles usually have large moles with more than one color. The moles may start in childhood and increase in size/number through adolescence and early adulthood. If you have atypical moles, you are at a higher risk for melanoma. You should be followed regularly by a health care professional such as a dermatologist.
  4. Being born with a mole or moles
    Being born with a mole called a nevomelanocytic congenital nevus or having neurocutaneous melanosis puts a person at increased risk for developing melanoma. Bigger moles pose a greater risk than smaller ones. Deciding if and when these moles should be biopsied and/or removed involves complex medical decisions. Parents should discuss these concerns with their Pediatrician and consider seeing a Pediatric Dermatologist.
  5. UV light exposure
    Exposure to both UVB rays, which cause sunburns, and UVA rays, which cause tanning, increases your chance of getting skin cancer. The more you tan and burn, the greater your chances of getting skin cancer.

Copyright © 2016 Melanoma Foundation New England. All rights reserved



Keep the Skin You Were Born In

The skin cancer prevention booklet entitled, Keep the Skin You Were Born In (Copyright 2007) is an evidence-based brief intervention designed to prevent skin cancer in young adult females. It uses an approach that focuses on appearance-related issues that are important to young adult females. It was funded by the American Cancer Society. Further information about the intervention can be found on National Cancer Institute's Research-Tested Intervention Programs (RTIPs).

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