Every year, the American Cancer Society compiles statistics on the occurrence of various types of cancer. The two most common types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are not included in these statistics because they are more common than all other types of cancers combined but are almost never serious. Melanoma, however, is included in the ACS cancer statistics because it is a potentially lethal type of cancer.
Among men, melanoma is the sixth most common type of cancer, with more than 35,000 cases diagnosed in the United States each year. This represents about 5 percent of all cancers occurring in men.
Among women, melanoma is the seventh most common type of cancer, with more than 27,000 cases diagnosed in the United States each year. This represents about 4 percent of all cancers occurring in women.
The five-year survival rate for melanoma is much higher than that for many other types of cancer, at 91%. However, the survival rate depends on whether the cancer has spread before it was diagnosed. Melanomas that have not spread have a 98% five-year survival rate. Those that have spread to nearby lymph nodes have a 65% survival rate. But if melanoma has spread to distant parts of the body, the five-year survival rate is only 15%.
National Cancer Institute statistics indicate that the risk of melanoma varies greatly with age and race/ethnicity. The median age at which melanoma is diagnosed is 59. In the United States, 1% of melanomas occur in people under age 20, 8% in those aged 20 to 34, 14% in those age 35 to 44, 19% in those age 45 to 54, 19% in those age 55 to 64, 18% in those age 65 to 74, 16% in those age 75 to 84, and 5% in those age 85 or older, according to NCI statistics.
White Americans have a much higher risk of melanoma than those in other racial groups do. The number of new cases of melanoma per year is about 27 per 100,000 white men and 18 per 100,000 white women. Rates in Hispanic Americans are lower, at 4.5 per 100,000 per year in men and 4.6 per 100,000 per year in women. Rates in American Indians and Alaska Natives are 4.1 per 100,000 in men and 2.0 per 100,000 in women. Asians and Pacific Islanders have even lower rates - below 2.0 per 100,000 per year in both sexes. African Americans have the lowest rates of all - about 1.0 per 100,000 per year in both sexes.