Other forms of skin cancer killing more people than melanoma – signs to spot

Scientists believe that NMSC is “underreported”, and that the true impact of this disease may be even higher than estimated.

While melanoma is considered to be more serious, non-melanoma skin cancer is more common.

Study lead author Professor Thierry Passeron, said: “Although NMSC is less likely to be fatal than melanoma skin cancer, its prevalence is strikingly higher.

“In 2020, NMSC accounted for 78 per cent of all skin cancer cases, resulting in over 63,700 deaths.

“In contrast, melanoma caused an estimated 57,000 fatalities in the same year.

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Prof Passeron, of the University Hospital of Nice, France, added: “As alarming as these figures are, they may, in fact, be underestimated. NMSC is often underreported in cancer registries, making it challenging to understand the true burden. The significantly higher incidence of NMSC has, therefore, led to a more substantial overall impact.”

As well as examining the overall burden of skin cancers, the research team identified specific groups that were more at risk of this disease.

These included people who work outside, organ transplant recipients and those who have the skin condition xeroderma pigmentosum, an inherited extreme sun sensitivity condition.

The study, which used data from the World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer, found a “high incidence” of skin cancer in fair-skinned and elderly populations from the UK, USA, Germany, France, Australia and Italy.

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However, the researchers said that even countries with a high proportion of dark phenotypes were not immune to the risk of death from skin cancer, as shown by the registered 11,281 deaths in Africa

In 2020, there were nearly 1.2 million reported cases of NMSC worldwide compared with 324,635 cases of melanoma.

The majority of skin cancer occurrences are non-melanoma, referring to a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin, with common types including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

In comparison with melanoma, a type of skin cancer that develops in the melanocytes – cells that produce melanin, NMSC is less likely to spread to other parts of the body and can be treated more easily.

Professor Passeron said: “We have to get the message out that not only melanoma can be fatal, but NMSC also. It’s crucial to note that individuals with melanin rich skin are also at risk and are dying from skin cancer. There is a need to implement effective strategies to reduce the fatalities associated with all kinds of skin cancers.”

He added: “Skin cancers are preventable and treatable, so we need to do more to ensure we are stopping the progression of this disease as early as possible to save lives.”

The findings are due to be presented at the European Academy of Dermatology and Venerology (EADV) Congress in Berlin, Germany,

Symptoms of non-melanoma skin cancer

The first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer is usually the appearance of a lump or discoloured patch on the skin that persists after a few weeks and slowly progresses over months or sometimes years, notes the NHS.

The health body adds: “In most cases, cancerous lumps are red and firm and sometimes turn into ulcers, while cancerous patches are usually flat and scaly.

“Non-melanoma skin cancer most often develops on areas of skin regularly exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, hands, shoulders, upper chest and back.”

If you have any skin abnormality, such as a lump, ulcer, lesion or skin discolouration that hasn’t healed after four weeks, see a GP.

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