Facts About Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers

Facts on melanoma rates in countries affected by skin cancer and where skin cancer usually starts on the body.

Non-melanoma skin cancer is by far the most common cancer in the UK and across the world.

According to UK’s NHS statistics, there are over 100,000 new skin cancer diagnoses each year in the UK and the incidence worldwide is increasing each year.

About 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed in the US each year(7) with 80 percent of these being basal cell cancers.

Learn more about signs of skin cancer

Skin Cancer Facts: How Common Is Melanoma Skin Cancer in the World?

Melanoma is often used synonymously with the term skin cancer and the vast majority of melanoma cases do involve the skin.

However, in medical terms, it is defined as cancer that originates from melanocytes which are pigmented (coloured) cells. This means that melanoma can also appear in the gut, nails, and eyes.

(1)Across Europe, Melanoma of the skin was the seventh most common cause of new cancer in 2018,(2) whereas, across the world, melanoma was the 20th most common new cancer diagnosis.

It is possible that variations in UV light exposure, our daily activity patterns, and working lives may explain why there are differences in the rates of melanoma globally.

Rates of melanoma are highest in more developed regions (North America, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand – with the highest being in Australia and New Zealand), and it is possible that better awareness of the condition in a sophisticated health care system leads to more patients seeking advice on a concerning skin mark and subsequent diagnosis.(5)

Melanoma Skin Cancer Rates by Country

  • In 2018, there were over 140,000 new cases of melanoma of the skin across Europe (accounting for almost
    3.5% of all cancer diagnoses in 2018.(2)
  • Over the next twenty years, by the year 2040, it is predicted that the incidence of new melanoma cases
    will rise by 12%.(3)
  • Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands had the highest rates in 2018.

The American Cancer Society’s estimates that around 97,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2019

  • At 12.7 cases per 100,000 people, the rate of melanomas in the US was less than half of that in Australia at 33.6.(6)
  • It is estimated that 81.7% of melanoma cases in 2012 in Europe were attributable to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.(4)
  • We are exposed to UV light either from the sun or other sources such as tanning devices.

Minimising our exposure to UV light, for example by wearing a high factor sun protection factor (SPF), can help to reduce the risk of developing all skin cancers – including melanoma.

  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that those who use tanning beds (sun beds) before the age of thirty may be as much as 75% more likely to develop malignant melanoma.

Read what the other risk factors for melanoma are.

Where Does Skin Cancer Start on the Body?

Basal cell skin cancers and squamous cell skin cancers are the most common types of skin cancer and most likely to appear on sun-exposed areas. These skin cancer images can give you a clue of what the most common types of skin cancer might look like.

Where Does Melanoma Usually Start?

There are sites which are more commonly affected and it is particularly important to monitor changes in these areas.

Where Does Melanoma Usually Start?

For women, the legs are the most commonly affected site whereas men are most commonly affected on their backs. A quarter of melanomas start in existing moles hence the need to closely monitor any moles that you have – especially abnormal, irregular and atypical moles.

See this extensive melanoma photo gallery for examples of how melanoma can look like but remember to see your doctor if you are in doubt.

How Quickly Can Melanoma Appear?

Melanoma can slowly develop over years or can arise from a sudden change in the skin or a previous mole. The time for any changes to become obvious will vary depending on the exact site and surrounding skin.

It is recommended to perform skin self-exams on a regular basis in order to identify any suspicious changes to the skin which could be a warning sign of skin cancer.

Read more about melanoma signs and symptoms in our guide on the early signs of melanoma.

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