Skin cancer statistics

What is the chance that I will get a melanoma? What part of the body is most likely to be affected? How many people die from melanoma? Is skin cancer more common in men or women?

These are some of the most common questions people ask about skin cancer when they visit Spot Check Clinic. We’ve compiled these FAQs together with Australian statistics that answer them. In Australia, statistics are gathered and analysed more systematically for melanoma than other skin cancers, so there are more melanoma statistics on this page.

How do skin cancer rates vary around the world?

Australia and New Zealand have the world’s highest rates of skin cancer, due to very high incidence and increased detection of skin cancers. In Australia and New Zealand in 2018, rates of non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) were over three times higher for men and twice as high for women than the region with the next-highest rate.1

Non-melanoma skin cancer rates worldwide

Region specific, age standardised incidence rates for non-melanoma skin cancer for males and females, International Agency for Research on Cancer
Region specific, age standardised incidence rates for non-melanoma skin cancer for males and females, International Agency for Research on Cancer 

 

Melanoma rates worldwide

Australia and New Zealand also have the world’s highest rates of melanoma. Melanoma is usually reported more accurately than non-melanoma skin cancer and country-by-country figures are more reliable. The following table shows the countries where melanoma was most frequently diagnosed in 2018.2

Rank Country Age-standardised rate per 100,000
1 Australia 33.6
2 New Zealand 33.3
3 Norway 29.6
4 Denmark 27.6
5 Netherlands 25.7
6 Sweden 24.7
7 Germany 21.6
8 Switzerland 21.3
9 Belgium 19.9
10 Slovenia 18.6
11 Luxembourg 16.5
12 Ireland 16.3
13 Finland 15.8
14 UK 15.0
15= Austria 13.6
15= France 13.6
17 USA 12.7
18 Czech Republic 12.6
19= Canada 12.4
19= Italy 12.4

Significantly more people die from melanoma in Australia and New Zealand than other countries.3

Region specific, age standardised incidence rates for melanoma skin cancer for males and females, International Agency for Research on Cancer 
Region specific, age standardised incidence rates for melanoma skin cancer for males and females, International Agency for Research on Cancer 

How common is melanoma in Australia?

Melanoma of the skin is one of the most common types of cancer in Australia, accounting for around 11% of all newly diagnosed cancer cases and around 3.5% of cancer-related deaths.4

In 2015, there were nearly 14,000 new cases diagnosed. This number is expected to rise above 15,000 in 2019. This is a continuation of a long-standing trend; the number of melanoma cases has been sharply rising worldwide over the last 35 years. 4

In Australia in any given year, about 50 out of 100,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma. The rate is higher for men (63 cases per 100,000) than women (42 cases per 100,000).5

The risk increases with age. People older than 60 have a considerably higher risk than younger individuals.5

What is the lifetime risk of getting a melanoma?

The risk of getting a melanoma depends on several factors. In Australia, these factors combine, leading to a higher risk than any other country.6

  • People with fair skin have a higher risk. An American study found that white people had eight times higher risk of developing melanoma than people of Hispanic origin, 18 times higher than people of Asian origin and 23 times higher than African Americans.7 In Australia, over 80 per cent of the population is Caucasian with European ancestry.8
  • Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight is a major cause of melanoma and other skin cancers. Australia receives high levels of ultraviolet radiation due to proximity to the equator and relatively clear skies.4 9

The lifetime risk of developing a melanoma for an Australian is 1 in 13 for men and 1 in 22 for women. The risk is higher further north, where UV levels are high for most of the year.6 The rate in Victoria is slightly lower: The lifetime risk of developing melanoma is 1 in 16 for men and 1 in 26 for women.10

How are melanoma rates changing?

There are two contrasting trends:

  1. The number of newly discovered melanoma cases is rapidly rising
  2. The death rate from melanoma is declining.6

Although the rate of new melanoma diagnoses is increasing in general, this increase is restricted to older people. In people under 55 years old, melanoma incidence has fallen over recent years.10 In people under 40, the incidence decreased from 13 per 100,000 in 2002 to 9 per 100,000 in 2016.5

Survival rates are improving, mainly due to the larger number of melanomas diagnosed at a very early stage — 92 per cent are diagnosed at stage where the cure rate is close to 100 per cent11  — and better treatments for advanced melanoma.12

What is the risk of getting a non-melanoma skin cancer?

Non-melanoma forms of skin cancer (mainly basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) are by far the commonest form of cancer in Australia. By age 70, 70 per cent of men and 58 per cent of women will be diagnosed with a non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC).4

It has been estimated that each day in Australia, there are more than 2500 treatments provided for non-melanoma skin cancers.4 From 2011-2014, 3.9% of Australians had one NMSC surgically removed, and 2.7% had more than one removed.13

The rate of non-melanoma skin cancer increases significantly with age:

  • A 50 year old person is 10 times more likely to develop an NMSC than a 30-year-old
  • An 80 year old person is almost 100 times more likely to develop an NMSC than a 30-year-old.13

New diagnosis rates for non-melanoma skin cancers are beginning to fall for people under 45.14

What is the survival rate for melanoma?

Most people diagnosed with melanoma make a full recovery. If the melanoma has spread to involve distant parts of the body, recovery is less certain, but survival rates have improved considerably over recent years. In the mid-1980s, the 5-year survival rate was 86%. Since 2010, this has increased to 91%.10 15

Survival is mainly determined by the thickness of the melanoma at the time of diagnosis.

  • For melanoma less than 1mm thick, survival is close to 100 per cent
  • For melanoma thicker than 4mm, the 5-year survival rate is just over 50 per cent.5
Graph showing 5 year survival rates for melanoma based on different tumour thicknesses at diagnosis
Graph showing 5 year survival rates for melanoma based on different tumour thicknesses at diagnosis

Who is at risk of melanoma?

Australians in general have a high risk of developing melanoma compared with people living in other countries, but some Australians have higher risk than others.

Men are at higher risk of developing and dying from melanoma

In Victoria, one in 16 men and 1 in 26 women are diagnosed with melanoma in their lifetime.10 Melanomas tend to be diagnosed at a thicker (later) stage in men. For example, melanomas greater than 4mm thick make up 7.1% of total melanoma diagnoses in Victorian men, compared with 5.9% in women.10

Thickness of melanoma Men Women Average
Less than 1mm 59.3% 65.3% 61.9%
1mm to 2mm 13.8% 13.4% 13.6%
2mm to 4mm 11.7% 8.1% 10.2%
More than 4mm 7.1% 5.9% 6.6%
Unspecified 8.1% 7.3% 7.8%

More men than women die from melanoma.

More than twice as many males are predicted to die from melanoma in Australia as females in 2019 (1190 to 536).6

Possible reasons for the different rates of skin cancer diagnosis and death include:

  • Men are more likely to be outside during times of peak UV radiation.
  • Men are less likely than women to use sun protection.
  • Men are less likely to visit their doctor, which could mean that skin cancer is diagnosed later and is less likely to be cured.16

Older people are at higher risk of developing and dying from melanoma

The incidence of melanoma increases with age. Melanoma is the most common serious cancer in people under 3017, but it is still unusual. Between 2010-2014, the risk of a person under 25 developing a melanoma was approximately 4.4 in 100,000. This rate is less than half the rate from 1981-1985, which was 9.6 per 100,000.17

The risk of melanoma increases from 40 and continues to increase with age. In Victoria:

  •  3.7% of men and 2.6% of women have been diagnosed with melanoma by age 75
  •  6.3% of men and 3.9% of women have been diagnosed with melanoma by age 85.10

In Australia the average age for melanoma diagnosis is 63 years for men and 60 years for women.4

  • 9.2% of people diagnosed with melanoma are aged under 40 years;
  • 11.2% are aged 40-49;
  • 18.4% are aged 50-59;
  • 24.4% are aged 60-69;
  • 20.4% are aged 70-79; and
  • 16.3% are aged 80 or older.5

Pie chart showing what age melanoma diagnoses occur for people in Australia

Melanoma is more common within families

The risk of developing melanoma is 74 per cent higher in people whose first-degree relatives (parents, siblings or children) have had a melanoma.18  This risk factor is not influenced by the number of moles or the darkness of the skin.19

In cases where a first degree relative has had melanoma, it is

• more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age,

• more likely to be diagnosed at an earlier stage20, and

• more likely to affect the trunk in men and women and arms and legs in women.18

Non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma an squamous cell carcinoma are also more common in people whose relatives have had melanoma.18

Melanoma is more common in people with fair skin

People with fair skin that burns easily, red or blonde hair and many freckles are up to four times more likely to develop melanoma.2122 Fair skinned people have a small amount of skin pigment, which absorbs ultraviolet radiation and reduces skin cancer risk.

People who have had skin cancer before are more likely to develop melanoma

People who have previously had a melanoma, basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma are more likely to develop melanoma (and other skin cancers) in future.

If a person has previously had a melanoma, their risk of getting future melanomas is 8 to 15 times higher than average. In cases where a parent has also had a melanoma, the risk is up to 30 times higher.23

Previous non-melanoma skin cancer increases future melanoma risk by 3 times.23

In people with a history of more than one melanoma, 59 per cent were diagnosed with the second melanoma within one year of the first melanoma diagnosis.24 After having their first melanoma diagnosed, 11 per cent of people will get another within 5 years.24

People with many moles are more likely to develop melanoma

The number of moles a person has influences their risk of developing melanoma. People with more than 100 moles are 7 times more likely to develop melanoma than those with fewer than 15.25

People with dysplastic (unusual-looking) moles have a higher risk of developing melanoma. If there are 5 or more dysplastic moles, the risk of developing melanoma is 6 times the average.25

Gay and bisexual men are more likely to develop skin cancers

Gay and bisexual men are 50% more likely to report a history of skin cancer26 and twice as likely to report a history of melanoma.27

This is possibly due to significantly higher rates of tanning28 and solarium use (up to 6 times more) than in heterosexual men.26 Also, gay and bisexual men are less likely to wear sun protective clothing when outdoors.29

Skin cancer rates in lesbian and bisexual women are not significantly different from the general population.30

How much does sunburn increase melanoma and other skin cancer risk?

Sunburn is a sign that two major risks factors for skin cancer are present:

  1. skin sensitivity to sunlight, and
  2. amount of exposure to sunlight.31

Sunburn in early life (childhood and teenage years) is strongly associated with melanoma. People who have had five or more blistering sunburns between 15 and 20 are twice as likely to develop melanoma32, and as little as one severe sunburn in childhood can double the risk of developing a melanoma before the age of 40.33

Sunburns later in life appear to have less risk.

There is a weak link between melanoma and sunburns in people aged 30-39

There is no increase in melanoma risk for people being sunburnt aged 40-49.21

The pattern of sun exposure is also important. Melanoma and basal cell carcinoma are more likely to develop in people who usually have little regular sun exposure and become sunburnt periodically. Squamous cell carcinoma is more common in those who have continual low-grade exposure to sunlight, such as people who work outdoors.31

Sunburn is not always necessary for skin cancer to develop. Ultraviolet-A radiation, produced by solariums, causes less burning than UV-B radiation. Both types of UV radiation contribute to skin cancer and signs of ageing.34 Solariums, which significantly increase skin cancer risk,  predominantly produce UV-A radiation, rather than UV-B which is what causes sunburn.

How much does solarium use increase melanoma and other skin cancer risk?

Solariums (tanning beds) emit high quantities of ultraviolet radiation which can cause skin cancer without sunburn. The more frequently people use solariums, the greater the risk of melanoma.

  • People who have ever used a solarium are 20% more likely to develop a melanoma
  • The risk increases by 1.8% for each solarium use per year35

The risk is higher in people who commenced solarium use at a young age, although solarium use at any age increases melanoma and other skin cancer risk.36

If age at first use is under 35, the risk of melanoma is increased by almost 90 per cent.35

People who use solariums as teenagers are six times more likely to be diagnosed with a melanoma in their 20s.37

The non-melanoma skin cancers are also more common in people who have ever used a solarium:

  • 67% higher risk of squamous cell carcinoma
  • 29% higher risk of basal cell carcinoma.

The risks are higher if the solarium was first used before the age of 25 (100% increased risk for squamous cell carcinoma and 40% higher risk for basal cell carcinoma).38

What are the most common body locations for melanoma to develop?

Melanoma can develop anywhere on the skin, although it is much more common in areas that receive large amounts of sun exposure. The most common locations tend to differ between men and women.

  • Women are most likely to develop melanoma on the arms, shoulders and legs.
  • Men are most likely to develop melanoma on the trunk, face and neck. These differences are most likely due to men generally having shorter hair and women being more likely to routinely expose their limbs.10
Image showing where on the body men and women get melanoma
Image showing where on the body men and women get melanoma

Melanoma affecting the back of the head has the lowest survival rate. The highest survival rate is for melanomas on the thighs, forearms, hands and front of the upper arms.39

Can you die from non-melanoma skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma)?

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinomas are far more common than melanoma; they account for five times as many cases than all other forms of cancer combined.40 Fortunately, they are much less likely to result in serious illness or death. In 2015 there were 1520 melanoma skin cancer deaths and 642 non-melanoma skin cancer deaths. Almost 30% of skin cancer deaths were from non-melanoma skin cancers.31

Skin cancer deaths in Australia in 201531

Type of skin cancer Number of deaths Percentage of deaths
Melanoma 1520 70.3%
No-melanoma skin cancers 642 29.7%
All skin cancers 2162 100%

If untreated, non-melanoma skin cancers can grow, causing damage to the surrounding tissues. Squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other organs, leading to serious illness and death. The risk of squamous cell carcinoma spreading to other organs has been estimated at 0.5% to 16%.41  Once it has spread, the death rate is up to 75 per cent.42

In 2013-2014 in Australia, there were 115,000 NMSC-related admissions to hospital, mostly for treatment of the NMSC.5

Because non-melanoma skin cancer is extremely common, there are hundreds of deaths per year despite its low death rate. In 2015 in Australia, 642 people died of non-melanoma skin cancers.4 This is a significant increase: in 1982, there were 189 NMSC deaths.5

Men are three times more likely to die from NMSC than women.43

Most deaths from NMSC are in people older than 75.43

How much can skin screening reduce the risk from melanoma?

Many melanomas are detected by the patient or a family member or friend, but in 40 – 45 per cent of cases, melanoma is discovered by a doctor performing a full body screening examination on a person who is not aware that it is there.44 45

Melanomas detected at screening examinations tend to be significantly thinner than those detected by people on their own skin. In other words, a melanoma detected at a screening examination is more likely to be cured.46

Skin cancer screening in large populations has been shown to lead to a small decrease in melanoma deaths (less than 1 death per 100,000 people).47 This number seems small, but in a city the size of Melbourne, it would translate to approximately 40 lives saved per year.

Regular skin examination of people at very high risk of melanoma, particularly those with many moles, regular skin examination with total body photography (mole mapping) has been shown to be a cost-effective way of detecting melanoma at an early stage while reducing the number of unnecessary biopsy procedures.48 This means that regular skin cancer screening is usually recommended for people at higher risk. Patients with fewer risk factors for melanoma are more likely to detect their own melanomas44 so routine skin cancer screening is generally not recommended for people under 40 with few risk factors.