High Incidence of Non-melanoma Skin Cancer in the U.S.

Posted on March 24th, 2010 by

A significant increase in the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancers in the United States since the 1990s has been reported in two studies recently published in the  Archives of Dermatology.[1],[2]

Non-melanoma skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma very rarely metastasizes, but it can cause extensive local damage to the skin and surrounding tissues.  Squamous cell carcinoma is more likely than basal cell carcinoma to spread to lymph nodes or distant parts of the body, though this happens infrequently.

The incidence of these skin cancers increases with age and is thought to be due primarily to sun exposure. However, the incidence of basal cell and squamous cell cancers is also increased in smokers. The recent extensive use of tanning beds has also been implicated in the increased incidence of skin cancers. The most frequent sites for basal and squamous cell carcinomas are the head and neck, which get the most sun exposure.

To estimate the incidence of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, researchers collected information from several large data sets. The researchers reported that over 2 million patients on Medicare were treated for a non-melanoma skin cancer in 2006.  They also reported that the number of non-melanoma skin cancer treatment procedures in the Medicare population increased by 77% from 1992 to 2006.

In the second study, a researcher from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center developed a mathematical model to estimate prevalence of squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma in the United States. This researcher used National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) 2007 data, National Cancer Institute Skin Cancer Incidence data (1977-1978), and SEER data. He estimated that 13 million White non-Hispanics in the United States in 2007 had a history of at least one non-melanoma skin cancer and approximately one in five 70 year olds have had non-melanoma skin cancer.

The researchers from both studies concluded that there is an under-recognized “epidemic” of non-melanoma skin cancers in the United States and it is expected that the incidence will continue to rise as our population ages.  Early detection of skin cancers is critical for optimal treatment, and prevention is crucial to reverse this rising trend in skin cancer incidence.


[1] Rogers HW, Weinstock MA, Harris AR, et al. Incidence Estimate of Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer in the United States, 2006. Archives of Dermatology. 2010;146(3):283-287

[2] Stern RS, Prevalence of a history of skin cancer in 2007. Results of an incidence-based model. Archives of Dermatology. 2010;146:279-282.

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