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
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
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.