A Snapshot of Melanoma

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Incidence and Mortality

Melanoma of the skin, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is the fifth most common type of new cancer diagnosis in American men and the seventh 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 younger than 45 years, incidence rates are higher in women than in men. By age 60 years, melanoma incidence rates in men are more than twice those of women; by age 80 years, men are nearly three times more likely to develop melanoma than women. The annual incidence rate of melanoma among whites increased by more than 60 percent from 1991 to 2011. The incidence of melanoma has been increasing more rapidly among whites aged 65 and older than among any other group.

Risk factors for melanoma include having fair skin that burns easily, high lifetime exposure to natural or artificial sunlight, a history of blistering sunburns (particularly at a young age), many common moles, a personal or family history of dysplastic nevi or melanoma, and being white. Avoiding sun exposure and using a broad-spectrum sunscreen lotion that filters both UVB and UVA radiation may reduce the risk of melanoma. Visual skin examinations are sometimes used to screen for melanoma. Standard treatments for melanoma include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and biological therapy.

Assuming that incidence and survival rates follow recent trends, it is estimated that $2.9 billion1 will be spent on melanoma care in the United States in 2014.

Line graphs of U.S. Melanoma Incidence and mortality per 100,000 by race and ethnicity from 1991-2011.  In 2011, whites have the highest incidence followed by Hispanics, Asians/Pacific Islanders and African Americans. In 2011, whites have the highest mortality, followed by Hispanics, African Americans and Asians/Pacific Islanders.

Source: Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program and the National Center for Health Statistics. Additional statistics and charts are available at the SEER Web site.

NCI’s Investment in Melanoma Research

To learn more about the research NCI conducts and supports in melanoma, visit the NCI Funded Research Portfolio (NFRP). The NFRP includes information about research grants, contract awards, and intramural research projects funded by NCI. When exploring this information, it should be noted that approximately half of the NCI budget supports basic research that may not be specific to one type of cancer. By its nature, basic research cuts across many disease areas, contributing to our knowledge of the underlying biology of cancer and enabling the research community to make advances against many cancer types. For these reasons, the funding levels reported in NFRP may not definitively report all research relevant to a given category.

Pie chart of NCI Melanoma Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2013.  Biology, 18%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 7%.  Prevention, 6%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 16%.  Treatment, 43%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 5%.  Scientific model systems, 5%.

Source: NCI Funded Research Portfolio. Only projects with assigned common scientific outline area codes are included. A description of relevant research projects can be found on the NCI Funded Research Portfolio Web site.

Other NCI programs and activities relevant to melanoma include:

Selected Advances in Melanoma Research

  • The loss of the kinase PDK1, a protein that is highly expressed in primary and metastatic melanoma, delayed the development and reduced invasion and metastasis in a mouse model of melanoma; identifying a potential pathway to target in future melanoma treatments. Published September 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • A unique RNA counting technology identified seven potential protein targets for immunotherapy that are overexpressed, or highly active, in melanoma cells, but have limited expression in normal tissue. Published September 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • Melanoma patients who had a large expansion of a specific subset of regulatory T cells (Tregs) in their peripheral blood after one cycle of standard immunotherapy had worse clinical outcomes than patients who had low levels of these cells, suggesting that monitoring this Treg population in patients may predict which patients might benefit from treatment. Published January 2014. [PubMed Abstract]
  • The final results of a randomized phase III trial showed that, among patients with an intermediate-thickness primary melanoma, those who had minimally invasive sentinel lymph node biopsy, followed by immediate regional lymphadenectomy if the biopsy detected metastases, lived longer than patients who had regional lymphadenectomy only after clinically detected metastasis. Published February 2014. [PubMed Abstract]

Additional Resources for Melanoma

  • Posted: November 5, 2014