Globally, non-melanoma skin cancer now has a higher mortality rate than melanoma.

Globally, non-melanoma skin cancer now has a higher mortality rate than melanoma.

Worldwide, non-melanoma skin malignancies caused more fatalities than melanoma because they are far more prevalent. Skin cancer rates may be rising in part due to the aging population. Skin cancer that is non-melanoma is curable and, in most circumstances, preventative.

According to a study being presented at the European Academy of Dermatology and Neurology Congress 2023, non-melanoma skin malignancies now account for more deaths globally than melanoma alone. The prevalence of non-melanoma skin cancers is so great that even though they are less lethal than melanomas, the number of fatalities from them is larger, according to the study’s authors. In contrast to the 324,635 occurrences of melanoma, there were approximately 1.2 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer in 2020. According to the study, non-melanoma skin cancers caused 63,700 deaths globally and 78% of all skin cancer cases in 2020. At the same time, 57,000 people died from melanoma.

What to know about skin cancers other than melanoma

Skin cancers other than melanoma grow slowly in the top layers of the skin. Squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are common varieties. These malignancies are easier to cure and have a lower propensity to spread to other parts of the body. In spite of relatively low death rates, the study’s authors noted that fair-skinned and older people in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and Italy experience a high incidence rate of skin cancer. The researchers point out that skin cancer risk exists even in nations with a significant population of people with dark complexion.

“This study offers a fascinating look into the incidence and fatality rates of skin cancer around the world. According to Dr. Michele Green, a cosmetic dermatologist at Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who was not involved in the study, “It is interesting that the availability of dermatologists in a given area did not correlate with melanoma incidence or mortality rates, suggesting that other factors besides dermatologist density successfully decrease mortality-to-incidence ratios. “It is also surprising to see how high the mortality rate for non-melanoma skin cancers is, as most would assume melanoma to be the most lethal skin cancer type,” she said in an interview with Medical News Today.

The increase in cases of non-melanoma skin cancer

Dr. Brian Toy, a dermatologist and clinical professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Southern California who was not involved in the study, said that historically, melanoma has a much higher risk of death than non-melanoma skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which are typically not life-threatening. Despite important developments in treating metastatic melanoma with immunotherapy, which has essentially supplanted conventional chemotherapy, Toy stated to Medical News Today that this is still the case. Immunotherapy has significantly improved patients’ chances of surviving, especially those with metastatic melanoma.

“In this study, the absolute number of patient deaths attributed to non-melanoma skin cancer did exceed those with melanoma, but that is only because the sheer number of non-melanoma skin cancers (1,198,073) far exceeded the number of melanomas (324,635),” he continued. “An analogy would be to compare the number of fatalities from motor vehicles to those from motorcycles. Despite the fact that driving a car is statistically safer than riding a motorbike, there are more car accidents every year because so many more people drive than ride bikes. People ought to visit a dermatologist frequently. The doctor checks for non-melanoma skin cancers during routine checkups and advises early treatment to stop them from progressing to a life-threatening stage.

Non-melanoma skin cancer incidence and mortality rates are rising, according to Green, for a number of reasons. One of them is the aging of the world’s population. As we become older, our cumulative exposure to UV radiation raises our risk of getting skin cancer. Another reason is the thinning of our ozone layer. By absorbing UV rays, the ozone layer shields our atmosphere from harm.

Unless it has personally touched them, a friend, or a family member, “patients in the United States are generally unaware of the signs and symptoms of skin cancer,” Toy added. “Countries with a skin cancer epidemic, like Australia and New Zealand, where the incidence is extremely high due to the sheer number of fair-skinned people living in a sunny climate, have much more awareness.” The authors propose that stepping up public education campaigns about risk factors can be beneficial. In order to manage the condition, programs should include dermatologists, general practitioners, and other medical professionals.

The report offers incidence and death statistics for every country, including those where they are significantly higher than in the United States. Dr. Trevan Fischer, a surgical oncologist and assistant professor of surgical oncology for Saint’s John’s Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California who was not involved in the study, notes that it also lumps several types of non-melanoma skin cancers together. “Kaposi sarcoma and Merkel cell carcinoma are two additional, extremely uncommon, but potentially aggressive forms of skin cancer. The death rates increased as a result of their being included with non-melanoma malignancies. According to Fischer, Medical News Today, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas have substantially lower mortality rates.

He continued, “The other question regarding death rates is, did the patients die from the skin cancer or another health condition, but they had skin cancer?” For instance, if someone has a kidney transplant and later dies from a heart attack, did they pass away from kidney disease or did they pass away from a heart attack while they were suffering from kidney illness? These are two distinct objects.

Treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer

The kind, size, and location of skin cancer all affect how it is treated. Except in cases when the tumor is deep or has migrated to other parts of the body, dermatologists are able to treat the majority of cases of non-melanoma skin cancer. After that, an oncologist is frequently contacted. Excision and Mohs surgery are two surgical alternatives for treating the condition, according to Green. “A biopsy is taken during excision surgery and sent to a lab to make sure there is no trace of cancer still present. During Mohs surgery, the lesion is removed one layer at a time. A pathologist examines each layer as it is removed to check for abnormal cells, and the process is continued until there are no aberrant cells left in the tissue.

Cryosurgery or curettage and electrodesiccation may be suggested by your doctor if surgery is not an option, she continued. “Curettage and electrodesiccation involves scraping the lesion’s surface with a curette before burning the residual lesion with a hyfrecator. In order to treat superficial lesions, cryosurgery uses liquid nitrogen; it can be used alone or after curettage and electrodesiccation. A topical treatment called fluorouracil, which prevents the abnormal cells from dividing, can also be used to treat some basal cell carcinomas, according to Green.


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