Did You Know... The Facts About Skin Cancer

Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: July 24, 2013

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Skin cancer is the number one cancer diagnosis in the United States - more common than all breast, prostate, and lung cancers combined. The majority of cases are caused by sun damage to skin cells, and therefore are largely preventable. Every year in July we recognize UV Safety month to remind people of the importance of sun safety. These facts will give you a better understanding of the disease.

  • There are three types of skin cancer:
    • Basal Cell Carcinoma: approximately 2.8 million cases per year in the U.S.
    • Squamous Cell Carcinoma: approximately 700,000 cases per year in the U.S.
    • Melanoma: the most serious of the three, with 76,690 cases of invasive melanoma per year (approx. 54,020 "in situ")
    • From 1970-2009, the incidence of melanoma increased by 800% among young women and 400% among young men.
  • Ninety percent of cases are caused by sun exposure, whether that is chronic exposure or intermittent sunburns.
  • Skin cancer risk doubles with five or more sunburns in a lifetime, but just one bad sunburn can double the risk of melanoma.
  • Skin cancer is uncommon in African Americans, Latinos and Asians, but this also makes it more deadly in these groups because they are often diagnosed later in the course of the disease.
  • Tanning beds are NOT safe!! Exposure to tanning beds before age 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 75%.
  • The risk is not just for melanoma. Tanning bed users are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.
  • Even occasional use of a tanning bed triples the chance of developing melanoma.
  • Nearly 30 million people use tanning booths a year. 2.3 million of these are teenagers, who are at highest risk for skin damage.
  • There is no such thing as a “safe” tan or “base” tan. This does not prevent further skin damage from subsequent sun exposure.
  • Both sunburns and suntans are due to damage to the skin cells that can lead to skin cancer, premature aging and pre-cancerous skin conditions.
  • To prevent this skin damage, sun safety is a must and should be instilled in our children at a young age.
  • Learn your own skin and examine it every month. Report any changes in an existing mole (color, size, border, irregularity) or any new moles to your physician.
  • Folks with fair complexion are at highest risk for developing skin cancer, but that does not mean others should ignore their skin or sun safety! People of any race or ethnicity can develop skin cancer.
  • When detected early, skin cancer has a greater than 95% cure rate, so vigilance with skin exams is essential.


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