A Snapshot of Melanoma
Incidence and Mortality
Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is the fifth most common type of new cancer diagnosis in American men and the sixth most common type in American women. The incidence and mortality rates for invasive melanoma are highest in whites, who have a much higher risk of developing melanoma than African Americans. Among people under age 50, women are about 30 percent more likely than men to develop the disease. By contrast, among people aged 50 and older, men are nearly twice as likely than women to develop melanoma and by age 65 men are nearly three times more likely to develop melanoma. The annual incidence of melanoma among whites has increased by more than 70 percent over the past two decades. Increases have been most rapid among whites aged 65 and older.
Risk factors for melanoma include having fair skin that burns easily, high lifetime exposure to natural or artificial sunlight, a history of blistering sunburns, a dysplastic nevus or many common moles, and a family history of melanoma. Avoiding sun exposure and using sunscreen may reduce the risk of melanoma. Visual skin examinations are sometimes used to screen for skin cancer. Standard treatments for melanoma include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and biological therapy.
Approximately $2.4 billion1 is spent in the United States each year on melanoma treatment.
Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to Melanoma
- Health professionals can use the Melanoma Risk Assessment Tool to identify individuals at increased risk of melanoma in order to plan appropriate screening interventions.
- Several early-phase clinical trials of molecularly targeted, personalized cancer regimens are being conducted through NCI's Accelerating Clinical Trials of Novel Oncologic PathWays (ACTNOW) program, including a phase II trial for melanoma patients with specific tumor gene mutations.
- The Study of Clinical, Laboratory, and Epidemiologic Characterization of Individuals and Families at High Risk of Melanoma explores how genetic and environmental factors contribute to melanoma development.
- The Cancer Immunotherapy Trials Network conducts multicenter clinical trials of promising new agents that boost patients' own immune systems to fight melanoma and other cancers.
- The Genes, Environment and Melanoma (GEM) Consortium and Melanoma Genetics (GenoMEL) Consortium explore how sun exposure and genetic factors contribute to the development and progression of melanoma.
- One melanoma-specific Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs) is developing new therapies for melanoma that target metastasis and inflammation and is creating risk models for progression.
Selected Advances in Melanoma Research
- Results of a phase I and II clinical study showed that treatment with a combination of dabrafenib and trametinib delayed disease progression in patients with metastatic BRAF-mutant melanoma longer than treatment with dabrafenib alone. Published September 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
- Scientists have used high-throughput screening methods to identify drug combinations that effectively inhibit the growth of melanoma cells that have BRAF or RAS gene mutations, including BRAF mutations that cause resistance to vemurafenib. Published December 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
- Vermurafenib-resistant melanoma cells become drug dependent in xenograft models of drug resistance, revealing the potential for dosing strategies that may forestall the onset of lethal, drug-resistant disease. Published January 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
- Scientists have developed a promising PET imaging probe for use in early detection of melanoma. Published January 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
- See this PubMed list of selected free full-text journal articles on NCI-supported research relevant to melanoma. You can also search PubMed for additional scientific articles or to complete a search tutorial.
Trends in NCI Funding for Melanoma Research
The National Cancer Institute's (NCI) investment2 in melanoma research increased from $110.8 million in fiscal year (FY) 2008 to $121.2 million in FY 2012. In addition to this funding, NCI supported $25.2 million in melanoma research in FY 2009 and FY 2010 using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
Additional Resources for Melanoma
- What You Need To Know About™ Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers
Describes possible risks, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for someone recently diagnosed with melanoma.
- Melanoma Home Page
NCI's gateway for information about melanoma.
- Common Moles, Dysplastic Nevi, and Risk of Melanoma
A fact sheet about moles and how some moles may be related to melanoma, which is the most serious type of skin cancer. The fact sheet includes photos of differences between moles and cancer, and discusses risk factors for melanoma.
- Melanoma Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of melanoma.
- Clinical Trials for Melanoma