In the past 30 years, the number of cases of melanoma in the United States has more than doubled. The incidence of melanoma continues to rise significantly, at a rate faster than any other common cancer. This may be due to a combination of increased sun exposure, early detection and people living longer. About 65 percent of melanoma cases are attributed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
Melanoma is 10 times more common in Caucasians than in African Americans. It is the fifth most common cancer in males and sixth most common in females. One in 55 people will be diagnosed with melanoma during their lifetimes. One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles the chance of developing melanoma in later life. The risk for melanoma doubles with five or more sunburns at any age.
Melanoma accounts for only about three percent of skin cancer, however, it causes 75 percent of deaths from skin cancer by spreading to other tissues and organs. The survival rate with melanoma increased from 49 percent between 1950 and 1954 to 92 percent between 1996 and 2003. If melanoma is detected early — before the tumor has penetrated the epidermis — the survival rate is about 99 percent. Unfortunately, the survival rate falls to 15 percent with advanced disease.
It’s important to note that there's mounting evidence of a link between tanning bed use and all skin cancers. Melanoma risk is increased by 75 percent in youths with first exposure to ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds. For adolescents and young adults, ages 15 to 29, melanoma is the second most common form of cancer, and for those ages 25 to 29, it is the most common form of cancer.
Early screening and diagnosis of melanoma, and all skin cancers, are vital to treatment success.