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Epidemic of Skin Cancer in the U.S.?

Steep Increases in Cases of Nonmelanoma Skin Cancers, Study Finds
By Joanna Broder
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

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March 16, 2010 -- When people think about skin cancer, often it’s melanoma, the deadliest form, that comes to mind. But a new study suggests that nonmelanoma skin cancers, already the most common form of cancer in the United States, appear to be on the rise.

From 1992 to 2006, cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer in the Medicare population rose an average of 4.2% a year, according to the study, which appears in this week’s Archives of Dermatology. In 2006, there were an estimated 3.5 million nonmelanoma skin cancers overall in the U.S., and about 2.1 million people were treated for the disease.

“These data give the most complete evaluation to date of the underrecognized epidemic of skin cancer in the United States,” the authors say.

The purpose of the study was to gauge the incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancer in the United States. Such an estimate is important because although nonmelanoma skin cancer has substantial associated costs and morbidity (deaths are fewer than for other cancers, but it is still significant), it is not reported in most cancer registries, the authors say. Hence, the actual incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancer is not known.

“Understanding skin cancer incidence and treatment is important for planning prevention strategies and allocating resources for treatment,” the authors say.

To estimate the incidence and treatment of cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer in 2006 in the overall U.S. population, Howard Rogers, MD, PhD, a dermatologist in Norwich, Conn., and colleagues, evaluated Medicare databases and a national survey based on visits to doctor offices.

“The data presented herein from national databases indicate that the incidence of skin cancer in the United States has substantially increased from 1992 to 2006 and is now about double the last published estimate from 1994,” the authors write.

The study has significant limitations in how it estimated the incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancer, including the assumption that one treatment procedure equates to one incident of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Still, "it provides a much stronger NMSC [nonmelanoma skin cancer] estimate than has previously been published,” they write.

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