Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts out in pigment cells. Over time, it can potentially spread from those cells to other parts of the body.
Learning more about melanoma may help you lower your chances of developing it. If you or someone you care about has melanoma, getting the facts may help you understand the condition and importance of treatment.
Keep reading for key statistics and facts about melanoma.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), rates of melanoma in the United States doubled between 1982 and 2011. The AAD also reports that in 2019, invasive melanoma was projected to be the fifth most common form of cancer diagnosed in both men and women.
While more people are being diagnosed with melanoma, more people are also getting successful treatment for the disease.
The American Cancer Society reports that for adults under 50 years old, death rates for melanoma declined by 7 percent per year from 2013 to 2017. For older adults, death rates dropped by more than 5 percent per year.
Melanoma can spread from the skin to other parts of the body.
When it spreads to nearby lymph nodes, it’s known as stage 3 melanoma. Eventually it may also spread to distant lymph nodes and other organs, such as the lungs or brain. This is known as stage 4 melanoma.
Once melanoma spreads, it’s harder to treat. That’s why it’s so important to get treatment early.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is about 92 percent. That means that 92 out of 100 people with melanoma live for at least 5 years after getting the diagnosis.
Survival rates for melanoma are particularly high when the cancer is diagnosed and treated early. If it’s already spread to other parts of the body when it’s diagnosed, the chances of survival are lower.
When melanoma has spread from its starting point to distant parts of the body, the 5-year survival rate is less than 25 percent, states the NCI.
A person’s age and overall health also affect their long-term outlook.
Unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and other sources is a leading cause of melanoma.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, research has found that about 86 percent of new cases of melanoma are caused by exposure to UV rays from the sun. If you’ve had five or more sunburns in your life, it doubles your risk of developing melanoma. Even one blistering sunburn may greatly increase your odds of developing this disease.
The Skin Cancer Foundation warns that nearly 6,200 cases of melanoma per year are linked to indoor tanning in the United States.
The organization also advises that people who use tanning beds before they’re 35 years old may raise their risk of developing melanoma by as much as 75 percent. Using tanning beds also raises the risk of developing other types of skin cancer, such as basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma.
To help protect people against the dangers of indoor tanning, Australia and Brazil have banned it altogether. Many other countries and states have banned indoor tanning for children under 18 years old.
Caucasian people are more likely than members of other groups to develop melanoma, reports the AAD. In particular, Caucasian people with red or blonde hair and those who sunburn easily are at heightened risk.
However, people with darker skin can also develop this type of cancer. When they do, it’s often diagnosed at a later stage when it’s harder to treat.
According to the AAD, people of color are less likely than Caucasian people to survive melanoma.
Most cases of melanoma occur in white men over the age of 55, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
The organization reports that over the course of their lifetime, 1 in 28 white men and 1 in 41 white women will develop melanoma. However, men and women’s risk of developing it shifts over time.
Under the age of 49, white women are more likely than white men to develop this type of cancer. Among older white adults, men are more likely than women to develop it.
Melanoma often first appears as a mole-like spot on the skin — or an unusual marking, blemish, or lump.
If a new spot appears on your skin, it might be a sign of melanoma. If an existing spot starts to change in shape, color, or size, that might also be a sign of this condition.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any new or changing spots on your skin.
Protecting your skin from ultraviolet radiation can help lower your chances of developing melanoma.
To help protect your skin, the Melanoma Research Alliance advises people to:
- avoid indoor tanning
- wear sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher when you’re outdoors during daylight hours, even if it’s cloudy or winter outside
- wear sunglasses, a hat, and other protective clothing outdoors
- stay indoors or in the shade during the mid-day
Taking these steps may help prevent melanoma, as well as other types of skin cancer.
Anyone can develop melanoma, but it’s more common in people with lighter skin, older men, and those with a history of sunburn.
You can reduce your risk of developing melanoma by avoiding prolonged sun exposure, using sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher, and avoiding tanning beds.
If you suspect that you might have melanoma, make an appointment with your doctor right away. When this type of cancer is detected and treated early, the chances of survival are high.