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Skin Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - General Information About Skin Cancer

There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC).
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
  • Melanoma.

BCC and SCC are the most common forms of skin cancer and are collectively referred to as nonmelanoma skin cancers. This summary only covers the treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancers. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Melanoma Treatment for more information.)

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Incidence and Mortality

Nonmelanoma skin cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in the United States. BCC is the more common type of the two nonmelanoma types, accounting for about three-quarters of nonmelanoma skin cancers.[1] The incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancer appears to be increasing in some,[2] but not all [3] areas of the United States. Overall U.S. incidence rates have likely been increasing for a number of years.[4] At least some of this increase may be attributable to increasing skin cancer awareness and resulting increasing investigation and biopsy of skin lesions.

Precise estimation of the total numbers and incidence rate of nonmelanoma skin cancer is not possible because reporting to cancer registries is not required. However, based on Medicare fee-for-service data, which were then extrapolated to the U.S. population, an estimated 2,152,500 persons were treated for nonmelanoma skin cancers in 2006.[4] That number would exceed all other cases of cancer estimated by the American Cancer Society for that year, which was about 1.4 million.[5] Although the two types of nonmelanoma skin cancer are the most common of all malignancies, they account for less than 0.1% of patient deaths caused by cancer.

Risk Factors

Epidemiologic evidence suggests that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and the sensitivity of an individual's skin to UV radiation are risk factors for skin cancer, though the type of exposure (i.e., high-intensity exposure and short-duration exposure vs. chronic exposure) and pattern of exposure (i.e., continuous pattern vs. intermittent pattern) may differ among the three main skin cancer types.[6,7,8] All three types of skin cancer are more likely to occur in individuals of light complexion who have had substantial exposure to sunlight, and skin cancers are more common in the southern latitudes of the Northern hemisphere. In addition, the immune system may play a role in pathogenesis of skin cancers.

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