Melanoma Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer. While it only accounts for about 1% of all skin cancers, melanoma causes the most skin cancer deaths.

Researchers estimate that 99,780 adults in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive melanoma in 2022. About 7,650 are expected to die from it. If melanoma is found and treated early, the prognosis is favorable. Newer treatments are helping people with advanced forms of the disease live longer.

This article will highlight important facts and statistics you should know about melanoma.  

Healthcare provider examining person for melanoma

Zinkevych / Getty Images

Melanoma Overview

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that happens when cells that give skin its pigment, called melanocytes, grow out of control. 

This cancer can develop anywhere on the skin, but it's more likely to crop up on women's legs and the chest and back of men. Other common sites include the neck and face.

Spotting Melanomas

Melanomas can form anywhere on the body, including in the eyes, fingernails, genitals, and soles of the feet.

How Common Is Melanoma?

About 1.3 million Americans are living with melanoma. Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer among men and women in the United States.

The overall incidence of melanoma has doubled during the last 30 years. However, incidence rates decreased by about 1% each year from 2005 to 2008 among people under 50.

Between 2014 to 2018, the rates in adults aged 50 and older stayed the same. Researchers believe the decrease in melanoma prevalence among younger people may be due to better sun-protection behaviors.

Melanoma by Ethnicity

Melanoma is more than 20-times more common among White people than in Black people.

The lifetime risk for developing melanoma is:

  • 1 in 38 for White people
  • 1 in 1,000 for Black people
  • 1 in 167 for Hispanic people

Melanoma in Black People

Although melanoma is much less likely to affect Black people, it's typically associated with a worse prognosis. Part of the reason could be a delayed diagnosis leads to delayed treatment.

Melanoma by Age & Gender

The risk of developing melanoma is higher in older adults. The average age at diagnosis is 65. But melanoma is still one of the most common cancers in young adults.

Overall, melanoma is more prevalent in men. However, in people younger than 50, the rates are higher in women.

Causes of Melanoma and Risk Factors

Researchers don't know exactly what causes melanoma, but they have identified certain risk factors.

Gene changes (mutations) may increase a person's risk for melanoma. For instance, people who carry gene mutations in the CDKN2A gene and the BAP1 gene may be more likely to develop melanoma.

Other risk factors for melanoma include:

  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, including those from sunlight and tanning beds
  • A history of blistering sunburns
  • Having many moles, atypical moles, or certain inherited mole disorders
  • Having fair skin, freckles, and light hair
  • Having a family history of melanoma
  • Having a personal history of skin cancer or melanoma
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Being older
  • Being male
  • Having certain inherited conditions, such as xeroderma pigmentosum (XP)

Tanning Beds and Melanoma

One study found that indoor tanning was responsible for more than 6,000 cases of melanoma annually in the United States.

What Are the Mortality Rates for Melanoma?

The prognosis is generally very good when melanoma is diagnosed and treated early. The five-year relative survival rate for people with localized, stage 1 melanoma is 99.5%. However, the five-year relative survival rate for people with melanoma that has spread to distant areas of the body is only 31.9%.

It's important to note that survival rates are estimated and depend on many factors, including the treatments people receive. Treatment advances in recent years have improved survival rates for people with melanoma.

Between 2015 to 2019, deaths from melanoma decreased by about 4% each year, mainly because of treatment advances.

Among people with all stages of melanoma, the five-year survival rate is 93%.

Screening and Early Detection

Identifying melanoma early on can lead to a better prognosis. However, regular screening for melanoma is a controversial topic among medical experts.

Some researchers argue that routine skin screening for melanoma doesn’t save lives. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) made an inconclusive recommendation on skin cancer screening in 2016. The American Academy of Dermatology doesn’t recommend regular screening, but the organization does encourage self-checks to look for abnormal moles.

Healthcare providers are now using noninvasive tools, such as dermoscopy or confocal scanning laser microscopy, to help detect melanoma. These devices could help them make better decisions about whether to remove a suspicious mole.

The ABCDEs of Melanoma

When performing a self-skin exam, look for the ABCDEs of melanoma, which stands for:

Asymmetry: Asymmetrical moles are more likely to be melanoma.

Border: Irregular borders are a red flag.

Color: If the spot has various colors, it’s more suspicious.

Diameter: Melanomas are usually bigger than 6 millimeters.

Evolving: Has the mole changed in size, shape, or color?

Summary

Melanoma is a rare but sometimes serious type of skin cancer. People who spend a lot of time outdoors or use tanning beds have a much higher risk of developing this cancer. Fair-skinned people are much more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than Black people. Getting an early diagnosis can lead to an improved outlook, but experts don’t always agree about whether routine screening for melanoma saves lives for people who aren’t at high risk.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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