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Skin Cancer Prevention (PDQ®): Prevention - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Description of the Evidence

Background

Incidence and mortality

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There are three main types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC).
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which together with BCC is referred to as nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC).
  • Melanoma.

BCC and SCC are the most common forms of skin cancer but have substantially better prognoses than the less common, generally more aggressive, melanoma.

NMSC is the most commonly occurring cancer in the United States. Its incidence appears to be increasing in some,[1] but not all,[2] areas of the country. Overall U.S. incidence rates have likely been increasing for a number of years.[3] At least some of this increase may be attributable to increasing skin cancer awareness and resulting increasing investigation and biopsy of skin lesions. The total number and incidence rate of NMSCs cannot be estimated precisely because reporting to cancer registries is not required. However, based on extrapolation of Medicare fee-for-service data to the U.S. population, it has been estimated that the total number of persons treated for NMSCs in 2006 was about 2,152,500.[3] That number exceeds all other cases of cancer estimated by the American Cancer Society for that year, which totaled about 1.4 million.[4]

Melanoma is a reportable cancer in U.S. cancer registries, so there are more reliable estimates of incidence than is the case with NMSCs. In 2013, it is estimated that 76,690 individuals in the United States will be diagnosed with melanoma and approximately 9,480 will die of the disease.[5]

The incidence of melanoma has been increasing for at least 30 years.[5]

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 (high-intensity and short-duration vs. chronic exposure) and the pattern of exposure (continuous vs. intermittent) may differ among the three main skin cancer types.[6,7,8] In addition, the immune system may play a role in pathogenesis of skin cancer. Organ transplant recipients receiving immunosuppressive drugs are at an elevated risk of skin cancer, particularly SCC. Arsenic exposure also increases the risk of cutaneous SCC.[9,10]

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