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Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Epidemic in US

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A new study shows that non-melanoma skin cancer has become so common that it affects individuals more than all cancer combined. Non-melanoma skin cancer has become the most common malignant disease in the United States that also leads to increased healthcare costs and illness, and researchers say there is an epidemic in the US.

Tracking the incidence of skin cancer, researchers found estimates from 1994. Skin cancer is not reported in the cancer registry, making it only possible to estimate the incidence. For the current study a mathetmatical model was used.

Robert S. Stern, M.D., of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston, developed a mathematical model to estimate non-melanoma skin cancer’s prevalence in 2007, writing “This model used age-specific incidence data adjusted to reflect changes in incidence from 1957 to 2006, the age distribution of the population from 1957 to 2006 and the likelihood that an incident tumor was the first ever for that person.”

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The model shows “The prevalence of a history of skin cancer is far higher than that of any other cancer and exceeds that of all other cancers diagnosed since 1975”, says Stern, making the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer five times greater than breast or prostate cancer.

Between 1992 and 2006, the researchers estimate a 76.9 percent increase in skin cancers in the Medicare population.

The authors conclude, “There is an epidemic of non-melanoma skin cancer in the United States, as illustrated by comparison with the previously published estimates and the 4.2 percent yearly average increase in cases in the Medicare population from 1992 to 2006”, and educational programs about sun protection have done little to slow the rates. The authors are also asking for more research to target education, treatment and prevention.

Non-melanoma skin cancer treatment increased sixteen percent between 1991 and 2006. An estimated 3.5 million non-melanoma skin cancers were found in the United States, and approximately 2.1 million patients were treated for non-melanoma skin cancers in 2006 based on the study results, showing that non melanoma skin cancer rates are increasingly on the rise.

Arch Dermatol. 2010;146[3]:279-282, 283-287
This page is updated on April 18, 2013.