Being diagnosed with skin cancer can be an anxiety provoking and frightening time. One of the first things questions you may have is, “Am I going to die from this?” The fact is that despite all the education and information out there about the prevention of skin cancer, people still do die from it. This post will address questions one may have about skin cancer and mortality.
Can skin cancer be prevented?
The answer is a definite yes. Early detection is the key to prevention. We have many articles on how to prevent skin cancer including the following:
Are all types of skin cancer equally as deadly?
The answer is that mortality rates greatly differ depending upon the type of skin cancer you have. There are three basic types of skin cancer which include:Basal Cell Carcinoma , Squamous cell carcinoma , and Melanoma .
• Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer but it is rarely fatal. The Skin Cancer foundation gives an estimate that one million of the skin cancers diagnosed will be this type.
• Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer resulting in 250,000 people diagnosed each year.
• Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are both considered highly curable and are not traditionally included in overall cancer statistics
• The National Cancer Institute reports that there was an estimated one million new cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer in the U.S. in 2009. The Cleveland Clinic for Continuing Education informs us that nonmelanoma skin cancers have a 95% cure rate if detected and treated early
• Most deaths from skin cancer occur due to Melanoma. The American Cancer Society provides an estimate that there were about 11,590 deaths from skin cancer in 2009. And that 8,650 of these deaths were due to melanoma whereas 2,940 deaths were caused by other skin cancers. In our Introduction to Melanoma we state that although melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, it can often be cured if caught very early.
Are certain populations more at risk to die from melanoma? ''
In 2008 The Washington Post reported that there was an increase in melanoma rates for young women. Author Rob Stein cites the following statistics: “For young women, the rate went from 5.5 cases per 100,000 per year in 1973 to 9.4 in 1980, and it kept rising to 13.9 in 2004.” One of the reasons speculated for this increase is that women were using tanning beds more often than men. Our Doctor Hema Sundaram writes about the dangers of tanning beds on My Skin Care Connection.
Another population at risk for death from melanoma is the African American population. In my article, “African Americans More Likely to Die from Melanoma than Caucasians ,”I discuss a study from the December 2009 issue of the Archives of Dermatology which reported that African American patients are routinely diagnosed with skin cancer at more advanced stages than whites. According to the study: “The overall melanoma survival rate for African Americans is only 77 percent compared to 91 percent for Caucasians.” It seems this population is more likely to die from melanoma because there is less awareness that dark skin is not immune from sun damage.
What things can affect your prognosis if you are diagnosed with melanoma?
• Your prognosis greatly depends upon when you are diagnosed and at what stage. Here is information from The American Cancer Society about how melanoma is staged .
• The location of the melanoma matters. In a recent New York Times article (March 2010) on the prognosis of melanoma, the author states: “Research finds that having a first invasive melanoma on the scalp or neck leads to twice the risk of dying in 5 - 10 years as having it on the extremities, trunk, face, or ears.”
• You have a better chance for survival if your melanoma does not return after treatment. The longer you go without a recurrence the better your outlook. It is always a good idea to have a regular skin exam following the removal of a melanoma to make sure it does not come back.
The thing to remember about skin cancer is that it is one of the most treatable forms of cancer if caught early. Regular skin exams from a dermatologist can be one of the best ways to detect any potentially cancerous changes to your skin. For more information please visit Skin Cancer Connection for resources, support, and answers to your skin cancer questions.
Published On: March 14, 2010