Melanoma Causes Fewer Deaths Than Other Skin Cancers, Study Finds

In the case of the skin, tumor forms like basal cells and squamous cells are less likely to be a concern than melanoma as they are less likely to develop (or metastasize) to other areas of the body.

An upcoming study, however, revealed that nonmelanoma tumors cause more deaths than melanoma – although melanoma is more deadly on a per-individual basis.

The study, which was presented on October 11 in the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (EADV) Congress 2023 and has yet to be published by a journal of medicine, highlights that more deaths from nonmelanoma are happening due to the fact that there are more cases.

“Although those nonmelanoma skin cancers are much less deadly as compared to melanoma, their high number explains a higher mortality,” states the principal study researcher, Thierry Passeron, MD, PhD Professor and director of the dermatology department of the Universite Cote d’Azur in Nice, France. “Awareness and detection campaigns have mainly focused on melanoma to date.”

Results Backed by Global Data

Utilizing WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) data, Dr. Passeron and his team determined that nonmelanoma-related cases totaled almost 1.2 million by 2020. These cases comprised the majority of skin cancers and caused more than 63,700 deaths.

Melanoma, however, has caused more than 325,000 skin cancers that led to over 57,000 deaths. Although nonmelanoma-related cancers caused 6700 more deaths, 17.5 percent of cases of melanoma led to death, in contrast to 5 percent of cases of nonmelanoma.

Passeron states that nonmelanoma-related cancers are often not reported since many are not written in the cancer registry.

“I think that the research reinforces the need to be aware of all different kinds of skin cancer,” says Jeffrey Weinberg, MD, a dermatologist from Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. “Many individuals do not even know the difference between the various types.”

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What Are the Different Types of Skin Cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society describes the American Cancer Society explains, melanoma ( “black tumor”) is a result of melanocytes (the cells that make the pigment that give skin its hue), which are able to grow beyond control. Melanoma accounts for only 10% of the skin cancers.

Nonmelanoma skin cancers are caused by cells that aren’t melanocytes. These include squamous cell carcinoma as well as Basal Cell Cancer, which is among the more frequent skin cancers.

There are other cancers, not melanoma, that make up less than 1 % of skin cancers. These include Merkel cell carcinoma, which is at least five times as fatal as melanoma, as per the Skin Cancer Foundation.

“I think that we’ve focused on promoting melanoma awareness for so long that many people don’t realize that nonmelanoma skin cancers exist and are harmful,” says Lauren Ploch, MD, a dermatologist from Augusta, Georgia. “For instance when Jimmy Buffett passed away from skin cancer, the majority of people assumed it was due to melanoma. Jimmy Buffett was actually suffering from a highly aggressive form of skin cancer that is nonmelanoma referred to as Merkel cancer cell.”

If detected early, however, more aggressive skin cancers may be treated successfully.

Black and Asian People Aren’t Immune to Skin Cancer

The study did reveal the prevalence of skin cancer in aged and fair-skinned people within Europe, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and Italy. It also pointed out that countries with a high proportion of dark-skinned people weren’t protected from it.

Skin cancer might be more rare in Africa and Asia. However, the likelihood of suffering from it was higher in these regions, based on the research findings. The study cited more than 11,000 deaths from skin cancer across Africa during 2020.

Darker skin could provide additional protection against cancer caused by sun exposure. However, Dr. Weinberg warns there is still a risk.

“People with darker skin sometimes assume they are less prone to skin cancer because of the pigment in their skin,” the doctor states. “This is true to some extent, but it is not absolute.”

According to Passeron Health, awareness campaigns have focused primarily on the prevention of skin cancers among fair-skinned people.

“Individuals with melanin-rich skin are also at risk and are dying from skin cancer,” the doctor declares. “Prevention by sunscreen protection as well as education on the presence of suspicious skin lesions is of the utmost importance to all people. The efforts should also be extended to groups that might not be thought to be at risk, like darker skinned populations.”

Other groups that are at risk for skin cancer are those who work outdoors as well as organ transplant recipients, as those suffering from the condition known as xeroderma pigmentosum (an inheritable condition marked by a high sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation), according to a study.

Healthcare Professionals May Play a Bigger Part

It’s possible to imagine that countries that have more dermatologists per capita will be able to lower the mortality rates; however, to the shock of researchers, this wasn’t the scenario. They discovered that some countries, like Australia and Canada, the United Kingdom, and Canada, which had fewer dermatologists, had low rates of death-to-cancer. Japan, Russia, and Argentina, however, had an increase in deaths despite having a higher number of dermatologists.

The researchers believe that in certain countries that have fewer dermatologists per capita, general practitioners may play a greater role in the identification and treatment of skin cancers. In a lot of countries, general practitioners can conduct a thorough skin examination of their patients each year, as per Dr. Ploch.

“If we assume that many people are more likely to just see a general practitioner, the education of these providers [such as training them to recognize suspicious lesions early] will be essential to the goal of managing skin cancer in the population,” Weinberg adds. Weinberg.


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