Melanoma—Just the Facts!

May 16, 2012

Skin cancers can be divided into two types:  melanoma and non-melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.  These types do not tend to spread to other parts of the body and are often treated with various measures to destroy or remove the cells.  Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer.  Here are some statistics:

  • Melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the United States and worldwide.
  • One-in-50 Americans has a risk of developing melanoma over their lifetime.
  • Although the mean age at diagnosis is age 50, this is a cancer that affects a younger population than most cancers.  Melanoma is the most common cancer for young adults (ages 25-29) and the second most common cancer in adolescents and young adults (ages 15-29).
  • The incidence in people under 30 developing melanoma is increasing at a faster rate than any other age group.  For young women, the rate has risen by 50% since 1980!
  • According to the National Cancer Institute, it’s predicted that in 2012 76,250 people will be diagnosed with melanoma, causing 9,180 deaths and that’s just in the United States.
  • This means that every eight minutes, someone in the US will be given a diagnosis of melanoma…and that every hour someone will die from the disease.

Risk Factors

Genetics and exposure to UV rays from natural sunlight or artificial sources (tanning salons) are the two greatest contributors to melanoma.  Individuals with a family history of melanoma or a prior personal history of any type of skin cancer have a higher lifetime incidence of melanoma.  The use of tanning beds before the age of 30 may increases your risk of melanoma by 75% percent.  Even occasionally using tanning beds can triple your chances.

The risk of unnecessary exposure to natural or artificial light has been well established.  And although it is common sense to avoid exposure to these light sources, it is important to note that melanoma may occur anywhere—even where the skin is not exposed to light.

Melanoma can occur in the eye, the mucous membranes (such as the mouth) and even underneath the nails.  While melanoma does occur more frequently in people who have fair skin, light hair, and light eye color, darkly pigmented skin does not eliminate the risk of melanoma.

Having numerous moles (> 50), particularly if they are ‘dysplastic’ or abnormal appearing, puts you at an increased risk of developing melanoma.

For more information, read our newsletter article Fastest Car, Fastest Athlete…Fastest Growing Cancer in the US?  To see illustrations of common moles check out the National Cancer Institute’s Melanoma FactSheet.


About the Author: Anne Boyd, M.D., FACSM brings over 17 years of both family and sports medicine experience to Lifewellness Institute. She has been recognized as a “Top Doctor” by Pittsburgh Magazine 4 years in a row, and has published countless research articles and presentations.

Share your thoughts:
  • Julia

    I’ve researched that Melanoma actually occurs even after 3 times of getting sunburned. So basically children without sunscreen who are exposed to the sun and get a sunburn are at a greater risk to develop Melanoma because the skin has already been damaged. Living here in San Diego we definitely need to protect ourselves by applying a sunblock of at least 35 spf to protect ourselves from skin damage.

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