Recently released data show an alarming increase in skin cancer incidence: A study in the Archives of Dermatology revealed that more than two million people in the US develop over 3.5 million nonmelanoma skin cancers every year. This constitutes a more than 300 percent increase in skin cancer incidence since 1994, when rates were last estimated.
Nonmelanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), are the most common forms of skin cancer. Though they are rarely life-threatening, nonmelanoma skin cancers can be disfiguring when not diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.
When we contacted the study’s lead author, Howard Rogers, MD, he was able to provide further insights into the data. He calculates that the 3.5 million nonmelanoma skin cancer equate to approximately 2.8 million basal cell carcinomas and 700,000 squamous cell carcinomas annually.
These new numbers are disturbing but not surprising, as there has been a steady rise in the rates of both nonmelanoma and melanoma skin cancers in the past several decades. In 1994, a report in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology estimated total US incidence of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma at just over one million cases per year. (Incidence must be estimated, because nonmelanoma skin cancers are not usually reported to cancer registries. To determine rates, researchers consult various government databases for information about skin cancer-related procedures and visits to doctors.)
The latest figures confirm that skin cancer, the world’s most common cancer, is truly an epidemic. There are more new cases annually than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, and colon. While skin cancer, particularly nonmelanoma skin cancer, is usually very treatable when caught early, it should not be taken lightly. Skin cancers have a high rate of recurrence, and anyone who has had one runs an increased risk of developing another skin cancer, including melanoma. Additionally, people who have had nonmelanoma skin cancer have twice the risk of developing other malignancies, such as lung, colon, and breast cancers. Melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, may metastasize (spread) to distant tissues or organs, and can be life-threatening, if not detected and treated quickly.