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Cancer Snapshots: Disease Focused and Other Snapshots

  • Posted: 12/02/2013

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.

Line graphs of U.S. Melanoma Incidence and mortality per 100,000, by race and ethnicity, between 1990-2010. In 2010, whites have the highest incidence followed by Hispanics, Asians/Pacific Islanders and African Americans.  In 2010, whites have the highest mortality, followed by Hispanics, African Americans and Asians/Pacific Islanders.  Insufficient data for time trend analysis of American Indian/Alaska Natives.

Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to Melanoma

Selected Advances in Melanoma Research

Pie chart of NCI Melanoma Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2012.  Biology, 20%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 8%.  Prevention, 6%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 14%.  Treatment, 43%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 4%.  Scientific model systems, 5%.
  • 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).3

Bar graph depicting NCI Melanoma Research Investment between 2008-2012: Fiscal year 2008, $110.8 million Melanoma Funding of $4.83 billion Total NCI Budget. Fiscal Year 2009, $103.7 million Melanoma Funding of $4.97 billion Total NCI Budget. Fiscal Year 2010, $102.3 million Melanoma Funding of $5.10 billion Total NCI Budget. Fiscal year 2011, $115.6 million Melanoma Funding of $5.06 billion Total NCI Budget.  Fiscal year 2012, $121.2 million Melanoma Funding of $5.07 billion Total NCI Budget.

Additional Resources for Melanoma


  • 1 Cancer Trends Progress Report, in 2010 dollars.
  • 2 The estimated NCI investment is based on funding associated with a broad range of peer-reviewed scientific activities. For additional information on research planning and budgeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), see About NIH.
  • 3 For more information regarding ARRA funding at NCI, see Recovery Act Funding at NCI.

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