Cancer Types | Skin Cancer - National Foundation for Cancer Research

Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer

Studies show the number of skin cancer cases in the U.S. are growing at an alarming rate. In fact, 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, an aggressive form of skin cancer, is much less prevalent but is the deadliest type.

Key Facts

  • An estimated 106,110 new cases of invasive melanoma (penetrating the dermis or the skin’s 2nd layer) will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2021, with 7,180 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
  • Melanoma accounts for less than 1% of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.
  • The 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.
  • The estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is about 99% in the U.S. The survival rate falls to 66% when the disease reaches surrounding tissue or lymph nodes and 27% when the disease metastasizes to distant organs.
Sources: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2021; 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.

For Melanoma

  • 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
Source: American Cancer Society’s website 2021
Black Skin Cancer Ribbon
new cases of invasive melanoma expected in 2021
deaths expected in 2021
% five-year survival rate with metastasis

Skin Cancer Research

In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack skin cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.

Danny R. Welch, Ph.D.
Danny R. Welch, Ph.D.

Dr. Danny Welch is exploring how mitochondria – a specialized cell part that generates energy for our bodies – may determine why cancer metastases develop in some patients, but not in others. Differences in tumor formation, metastasis location and responses to therapy could be from our mitochondrial DNA. With continued success, this research may suggest that a simple blood test can help guide doctors in treating melanoma patients who are susceptible to metastasis and may need more aggressive treatment.

Another focus for Dr. Welch: His team has also discovered eight genes that may get turned off as cancer cells become metastatic cells – called metastasis suppressor genes. KISS1 gene was discovered in melanoma and the scientists determined that the cells expressing KISS1 can complete all of the early steps of the metastatic process but do not form a new metastatic site. The Welch lab continues to define the significant parts of the KISS1 gene to develop small anti-metastasis therapeutics that mimic the KISS1 gene’s function and arrest cells in forming a new metastatic lesion.

Paul Fisher, M.Ph., Ph.D.
Paul Fisher, M.Ph., Ph.D.
Dr. Web Cavenee
Web Cavenee, Ph.D.

For melanoma and other cancers, Dr. Paul Fisher is developing novel therapies that deliver an immune modulator gene he discovered, IL/24, to primary and spreading tumor cells, leaving healthy cells untouched. IL/24 causes tumor cells to commit ‘cell suicide’ and among its many anti-cancer properties, it activates the immune system to further fight cancer while sensitizing tumor cells to radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. One type of IL/24 gene therapy also includes a gene that fluoresces (lights up) when IL/24 finds and destroys tumor cells for theranostic approach (detection and treatment-monitoring). Another therapy combines IL/24 with a patient’s own immune T cells (adoptive cell therapy) to supercharge the T cells to fight cancer more effectively.

Helmut Sies, M.D.
Helmut Sies, M.D.

Dr. Helmut Sies, who received funding from NFCR for over 30 years, spent his career studying the role of micronutrients in cancer prevention and specifically focused on carotenoids and flavonoids. He discovered that lycopene – a carotenoid and antioxidant found in tomatoes, carrots and other red vegetables and fruits – is the most powerful molecule to quench or reduce the damaging effects of oxygen produced by our body’s essential metabolic processes. Lycopene also has strong skin cancer prevention effects. His research illustrated how flavonoids (found in cocoa products) can prevent skin damage caused by ultraviolet radiation, improve blood vessel function and reduce cardiovascular risk.

Related Content

Sun Safety: Many Young Adults Don’t Know the Basics

Summertime means living carefree in the sunshine, but a recent survey shows many young adults take that lifestyle too literally.  A recent study from the American Academy of Dermatology found that a third of Americans failed a basic quiz on sun exposure — and young adults did the worst. Forty-two percent of those surveyed born after 1996 were unaware that tanning could cause skin cancer. Similarly, forty-one percent didn’t know that the sun’s ultraviolet rays are reflected by snow, water, and sand. A third of this surveyed age range didn’t believe it was possible to sunburn on a cloudy day.  The generation preceding (born between 1981 and 1996) also lacked some lifesaving knowledge. Thirty-seven percent were unaware that tanning could cause skin cancer, and twenty-three percent didn’t know that sunburns increase the risk of skin cancer.  Though the first reaction of those within the age bracket mentioned above might be defensiveness, the survey is a timely reminder that it is essential to continue messaging about sun safety. Skin cancer diagnoses are growing at an alarming rate, and the beautiful sunshine plays a major role in that.  As the summer heats up, remember to be sun smart and follow the basics: 1. Seek shade Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. 2. Wear sun-protective clothing Wear a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection when possible. For more effective protection, select clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number on the label and ensure it is tightly woven.  3. Apply sunscreen Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. Remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating. Learn more tips and tricks about sunscreen here. Curious if you could pass the survey? Try your luck here and share with your friends.   Additional Reads You May Enjoy:  Melanoma 101: What You Need to Know Young Adults and Cancer: What You Need to Know 9 Must-Know Facts About Sunscreen   Stay connected with the cancer community! Receive our monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer prevention tips, and more. Sign-up here.

Melanoma 101: What You Need to Know

Skin cancer diagnoses are growing at an alarming rate.  In fact, over the past three decades, more people have been diagnosed with some form of skin cancer than all other cancers combined. Melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, is the deadliest type.  Many cases of melanoma can be prevented. To protect yourself and your loved ones here is all you need to know about the deadly melanoma skin cancer.  First off, what is it? Melanoma develops from melanocytes or the skin cells that produce melanin pigment, which gives the skin its color.  Melanoma can develop anywhere melanocytes are found, but certain areas are more prone than others. In men, it is most likely to affect the back and the head and neck area. In women, the legs are the most common site.  What causes melanoma skin cancer? Melanoma forms when something goes wrong in the melanocytes. When the DNA in these cells becomes damaged, they may begin to grow out of control. Experts believe that 90% of all melanomas are caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or indoor tanning devices.  How common is it? In 2021, over 200,000 cases of melanoma skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States. Of those, 101,280 cases will be in situ (noninvasive), confined to the top layer of skin (the epidermis), and 106,110 cases will be invasive, penetrating the epidermis into the skin’s second layer (the dermis). The number of new cases of melanoma cancer has steadily increased for the last 30 years.  How can one stay protected from melanoma skin cancer? As most melanoma skin cancers are caused by UV radiation, the most important thing a person can do is protect themselves from the sun and avoid tanning beds.  It is important to remember that protection from UV radiation is important all year round and among all various weather conditions. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that the sun can be exceptionally damaging between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm Daylight Savings Time (9 am to 3 pm standard time). During this time, it is recommended that people stay in the shade, wear clothing that covers arms and legs, wear a hat, wear sunscreen, and wear sunglasses.  What is a melanoma mole? Melanoma skin cancer often resembles moles and sometimes may arise from them. They can be found on any area of the body, even in areas that are not typically exposed to the sun. For this reason, it is important to know the color, size, and location of moles on one’s body to ensure any changes are noticed.  What research is currently being done on melanoma skin cancer? The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is committed to fighting cancer by funding high-risk, high-impact, and high-reward discoveries for cancer patients. Dr. Helmut Sies, an NFCR-funded researcher, is making great strides in melanoma skin cancer research.  After years of studying the role of micronutrients in cancer prevention, Dr. Sies discovered that lycopene, a carotenoid and antioxidant found in tomatoes and carrots, can reduce the damaging effects of oxygen produced by our body’s essential metabolic processes, and has strong skin cancer prevention effects. His research also […]

Therapeutic Vaccines Showed Long-term Anti-Cancer Effects for Melanoma

When people hear the word “vaccine”, they often think about vaccine’s preventive function that protects people from getting infectious diseases such as flu, hepatitis or Covid-19.  It’s true that traditional vaccines are developed to prevent infectious diseases, but innovative scientists are developing therapeutic vaccines that can treat various non-infectious diseases, including several types of cancer, after patients have the diseases.  With the help of modern technologies, scientists are able to create personalized vaccines based on the information obtained from patient’s cancer tissues so that the vaccines can induce and amplify specific groups of T-cells existing in patient’s immune system and initiate a stronger and broader anti-cancer immune response to kill the cancer that present the neoantigens, the protein molecules only appeared in cancer cells. As normal cells don’t present the neoantigens, vaccines designed to target them could be used as effective cancer therapeutics. Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston are front runners in clinical development of personalized therapeutic vaccines against melanoma, a very dangerous type of skin cancer. Recently, they presented very promising results from their clinical trials on 8 melanoma patients treated with NeoVax, or “Personalized NeoAntigen Cancer Vaccine”, that targets up to 20 personal neoantigens per patient.  The clinical results showed that almost 4 years after the treatment with NeoVax, all patients were alive and six of them didn’t show detective evidence of active disease. Furthermore, the researchers found that the immune response of neoantigen-specific T-cell can still be detected 4 years after the vaccination, which demonstrated the long-term persistence of the T-cell based cancer immunity. From the results of laboratory tests, they also detected that the neoantigen-specific T-cells actually penetrated into the tumor tissue after the vaccination, suggesting the vaccine-induced tumor cell killing is working on the right track as designed. Personalized therapeutic vaccines are novel and effective treatment options for melanoma cancer patients. As the vaccine’s design and development are based on the genetic and molecular information obtained from the tumor tissues removed by biopsy procedures or surgeries, melanoma cancer patients who are scheduled for those medical procedures should ask their doctors about the eligibility to participate in such a clinical trial beforehand. If you feel the information is helpful, please sign up here and/or make your generous gift here so that we can continue to bring such information to you and keep you connected with us through our monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring the progress of novel cancer research and cancer prevention tips. Additional Reads You May Enjoy: Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Be Proactive, Reduce Your Risk Screen Time: The Value of Medical Check-ups 3 Things to Know Before Getting the Covid-19 Vaccine Stay connected with us! Receive our monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer prevention tips and more. Sign up here.  Reference: Personal neoantigen vaccines induce persistent memory T cell responses and epitope spreading in patients with melanoma. Nature Medicine, 21 January (2021). An immunogenic personal neoantigen vaccine for patients with melanoma. Nature,547: 217–221 (2017).