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Skin Cancer Fact Sheet

  • Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States [1-3]

    • ​Actually, skin cancer is diagnosed more often than all other cancers combined

  • It is also one of the most treatable cancers when found early. ​

  • Over 5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year and over 7,000 lives are lost annually [3]

    • 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70 [4]

    • More than 2 people die of skin cancer every hour [4]

  • 90 percent of all skin cancer is caused by exposure to UV radiation. [3] Many of these cancers could be prevented by protecting our skin from excess sun exposure [5]

    • Did you know? Having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma [6]

  • A recent survey held by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) revealed that many Americans recognize the importance of protecting their skin, however, also report frequently getting a tan or even a sunburn [7]​

    • Yeah - I'm talking to you - don't be a hypocrite!​

  • A vast majority of our community misperceives a suntan as benign. Behind every tan - or even worse - a burn, there is underlying DNA damage. Accumulation of DNA damage over time greatly increases your risk of developing skin cancer. 

    • Did you know? Even just 1 blistering sunburn more than doubles an individuals’ risk for developing melanoma [8]

  • Our mission is to increase awareness on the dangers of UV sun damage and promote the use of protective measures.  

What are the different types of skin cancer?

It is easiest to break down skin cancer into two categories: Melanoma and Nonmelanoma

  • Melanoma is a dangerous tumor that arises from melanocytes, the pigment producing cells in our skin that determine our unique skin color.  

  • Nonmelanoma is, well, not melanoma... Let's start here. 


  • Nonmelanoma refers to two types of skin cancers: Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

    • The word "basal" refers to the bottom layer of cells within our skin. These cells specialize in producing new skin cells as old ones die off.

    • The word "squamous" refers to our skin's middle and outer portion. They help keep the outside environment out (dirt and germs, etc.) and keep the good stuff in (water and nutrients, etc.)

Figure 1: On the left, we see a SCC on the ear, an area we often forget to apply sunscreen. On the right is a BCC on the face. 

  • Like any cell in the human body, damage accumulation can weaken each cell's ability to divide normally. Just like smoking predisposes lung cancer, repetitive sun damage over many years can predispose us to skin cancers.  


Understanding The Numbers...

  • Remember above when we mentioned that over 5 million skin cancers are diagnosed yearly? Well...

    • Roughly 65 percent of those will be basal cell carcinoma

    • Around 32 percent are squamous cell carcinoma

    • And the rest – you guessed it – 3 percent are melanomas

                   * Yes - there are a few other rarer types of skin cancer... but I won't test you on those. 


  • The good news is that almost all cases of nonmelanoma skin cancers can be cured, primarily when found early. [5] Treatment modalities include freezing, topical therapies, electrodesiccation (zapping), or surgical removal.

    • The estimated survival rate is close to 100 percent when found early.

  • The bad news regarding nonmelanoma skin cancer is that the physical and financial burden can take a massive toll. The more extensive a skin cancer grows before treatment leaves patients with more prominent scars and permanent disfigurement. 

    • It's not all sunshine and rainbows - squamous cell carcinoma, if left untreated, holds roughly a 3.7 percent risk of metastasis (meaning it can leave the skin and travel elsewhere in the body) and a 2.1 percent risk of death. [9] 



  • Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. One of the many reasons is that melanoma can evade our immune system and is more likely to spread to other organs. 

  • But let's take a step back... what is melanoma? What even is a melanocyte? Melanin???

    • Melanoma is a tumor that arises from melanocytes, specialized cells in our skin that produce melanin. 

    • Melanin is pretty cool (nerd alert). It's a pigmented molecule that is produced in response to UV radiation. Melanin then travels via tentacle-like webs throughout our skin and plops itself above our skin cells, giving our skin color. This pigmented, UV-absorbing melanin above our cells protects our DNA from harmful UV radiation – like an umbrella. 

    • So, you're probably thinking... Fair-skinned people with less melanin are more sensitive to harmful UV radiation because they have fewer umbrellas to block the DNA-damaging UV light than darker skin types. Yes, you would be correct!​​


  • Roughly 200,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year in the U.S. 

    • If found late, the estimated five-year survival rate is 30 percent after it has spread. [5]

    • However, the estimated five-year survival rate is 99 percent when caught early and removed. [5]

    • An estimated 7,650 lives will be lost this year to melanoma. [5]


  • It is important to note sun exposure and UV radiation are major risk factors for skin cancers, including melanoma. But not all melanomas are caused by UV – therefore – not all melanomas will be in sun-exposed areas! Theoretically, melanoma could arise anywhere in our body that produces pigment. This includes the bottoms of our feet, underneath our fingers and toenails, and even within the mouth or back of the eye!


Figure 2: Melanoma can affect any area of our body where melanocytes are present, including our skin, nails, palms, and soles, and rarely our mouth, eyes, nose, and even brain. 


Updated: 09/25/2022



  1. Guy GP, Thomas CC, Thompson T, Watson M, Massetti GM, Richardson LC. Vital signs: Melanoma incidence and mortality trends and projections—United States, 1982–2030. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015;64(21):591-596.

  2. Guy GP, Machlin S, Ekwueme DU, Yabroff KR. Prevalence and costs of skin cancer treatment in the US, 2002–2006 and 2007–2011. Am J Prev Med. 2015;48:183–7.

  3. Koh HK, Geller AC, Miller DR, et al. Prevention and early detection strategies for melanoma and skin cancer: Current status. Arch Dermatol 1996; 132(4):436-442.

  4. Stern RS. Prevalence of a history of skin cancer in 2007: results of an incidence-based model. Arch Dermatol. 2010;146(3):279-282.

  5. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2022. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2022.

  6. Pfahlberg A, Kölmel KF, Gefeller O. Timing of excessive ultraviolet radiation and melanoma: epidemiology does not support the existence of a critical period of high susceptibility to solar ultraviolet radiation-induced melanoma. Br J Dermatol 2001; 144:3:471-475.

  7. AAD. New American Academy of Dermatology Survey reveals most Americans say sun protection is more important now than five years ago, yet many misunderstand how to protect themselves. Published April 22, 2022. Accessed July 1, 2022. 

  8. Lew RA, Sober AJ, Cook N, et al. Sun exposure habits in patients with cutaneous melanoma: a case study. J Dermatol Surg Onc 1983; 12:981-6.

  9. Schmults CD, Karia PS, Carter JB, Han J, Qureshi AA. Factors predictive of recurrence and death from cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma: a 10-year, single-institution cohort study. JAMA Dermatol. 2013;149(5):541-547.

  10. All images credit of

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