Over the past three decades, more people have been diagnosed with some form of skin cancer (most of which are nonmelanoma or basal and squamous cell skin cancers) than all other cancers combined. Melanoma, the aggressive form of skin cancer, accounts for 1% of skin cancer cases but the vast majority of skin cancer fatalities.
- In 2023 in the U.S., 97,610 new cases of invasive melanoma (penetrating the dermis or the skin’s 2nd layer) are estimated, and 7,990 deaths expected.
- Overall lifetime risk of getting melanoma is about 2.6% (1 in 38) for Caucasians, 0.1% (1 in 1,000) for African Americans, and 0.6% (1 in 167) for Hispanics.
- Estimated five-year survival rate for early-stage melanoma is about 99% in the U.S; 71% when the cancer reaches surrounding tissue or lymph nodes; and 32% when it metastasizes to distant organs.
- Several types of immunotherapy can be used to treat melanoma and help patients live longer
- For the rare and fatal nonmelanoma skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), immunotherapy is also helping patients live longer
Risks for Melanoma
- Exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) light – sunlight or tanning beds or lights
- Moles – having many moles
- Dysplastic nevus syndrome – have many atypical dysplastic nevi moles (some features or melanoma)
- Fair skin, freckling, and light hair
- Family history of melanoma
- Age – melanoma more likely to occur in older people but it is one of most common cancers in those under 30 years (particularly women)
- Men have higher rate of melanoma but varies by age
Sources: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2023; the Society’s website; and The Skin Cancer Foundation
Signs and Symptoms
A symptom is a change in the body that a person can see and/or feel. A sign is a change that the doctor sees during an examination or on a laboratory test result. If you have any of the symptoms below, it does not mean you have cancer but you should see your doctor or health care professional so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
- A is for Asymmetry:One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
- B is for Border:The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
- C is for Color:The color is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
- D is for Diameter:The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
- E is for Evolving:The mole is changing in size, shape, or color
Other signs of melanoma that don’t fit the ABCDE signs include:
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- Spread of pigment from the border of a spot into surrounding skin
- Redness or a new swelling beyond the border of the mole
- Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain
- Change in surface of a mole – scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or appearance of a lump or bump