Hi everyone. Today I want to talk about some simple statistics about skin cancer so you can see how it affects so many lives. This is especially important for younger people who seem to feel they are invincible and cannot imagine that their behavior (such as using a tanning bed) will affect their health and their lives years down the road. Although skin cancer may not be completely preventable, we can certainly decrease the number of cases for the future.
The first number is one million; this is the number of new skin cancers that will be diagnosed this year. That is a staggering number as cancers of the skin are the most commonly diagnosed cancers by a large margin. This means that millions of lives are affected as friends' and family members' lives are also changed as a result of the diagnosis. And with such a large number of cancers, the cost associated with diagnosis and treatment is between one and two billion dollars. There are also the costs of days of work missed, lost wages, and other hard to determine costs. This is a lot of money and drives up the cost of health insurance for individuals as well as tax dollars (for money that is spent by medicare and other government sponsored health plans). So even if you do not know anyone with skin cancer, you are paying for it to some extent.
The skin cancer that we fear most is melanoma, as it causes over 75% of all skin cancer deaths. A very scary number is that 1 in 63 people will develop invasive melanoma and the frequency continues to increase. While melanoma is the sixth most common cancer in men and women, it is the second most common cancer diagnosed in women between the ages of 20 and 30. This is very scary as it is increasingly becoming a cancer of young people and over 8000 people will die this year from melanoma. Most likely, increased sun exposure in young women is leading the increased rate of diagnosis in this group although other factors certainly are playing an important role. So for all the twenty-somethings who feel invincible, this is a reminder that life is a fragile state. On the upside, the five year survival rate for melanomas diagnosed very early is 99%, which is another reason to put a skin check on your yearly schedule. Furthermore, the more commonly diagnosed squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas have a greater than 95% cure rate when treated early. So while the burden of disease of skin cancer may be great, early detection and treatment can lead to cure and not reduce life expectancy.
While these statistics may appear scary or daunting, they simply reflect the amount of skin disease currently being diagnosed and treated. There are probably many more skin cancers that go untreated as many people do not seek medical care. Although the current trends suggest that we will see a further increase is skin cancers in the near and distant future, we can change this course as we learn more about prevention and alter our behavior. This is why sun protection is important since the sun is a known culprit for causing skin cancer. Prevention will always be the best treatment and we can be better at preventing skin cancer in the future.