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.
Educational article by Dr Nitin Shori
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.
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.
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
The American Cancer Society’s estimates that around 97,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2019
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.
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.
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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