The American Academy of Dermatology's 2021 SPOT Skin Cancer survey revealed that, despite skin cancer being the most common cancer in the U.S., only about one-third of adults are concerned about developing the disease, even though nearly 70% say they have at least one risk factor for skin cancer.
Additional survey findings include:
- 49% said they are more worried about avoiding sunburn than preventing skin cancer.
- 32% said they are more worried about avoiding wrinkles than preventing skin cancer.
- 25% said they got a sunburn in 2020.
“These findings are surprising and seem to suggest that many people do not take skin cancer seriously or perhaps believe skin cancer won’t happen to them,” says board-certified dermatologist Robert T. Brodell, MD, FAAD, professor and founding chair of the department of dermatology and professor of pathology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. "Yet, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and nearly 20 Americans die from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, every day.”
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone can get skin cancer. People with some characteristics, however, are at greater risk:
- A lighter natural skin color
- Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun
- Blue or green eyes
- Blonde or red hair
- More than 50 moles
- A family history of skin cancer
- A personal history of skin cancer
“While there are many risk factors for skin cancer that people can't control, such as having red or blonde hair or blue or green eyes, there are other risk factors that we can control, like preventing sunburns and avoiding tanning, both indoors and out,” says Dr. Brodell. “Unprotected exposure to ultraviolet rays is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, including melanoma.”
Research shows the incidence of skin cancer among non-Hispanic white individuals is almost 30 times higher than that among non-Hispanic Black or Asian/Pacific Islander individuals. While not as common among people with skin of color, skin cancer is still a risk. Research also indicates that skin cancer in patients with skin of color is often diagnosed at a more advanced stage, when it’s more difficult to treat.
“What’s concerning is that invasive melanoma—melanoma that grows deeper into the skin or spreads to other parts of the body—is projected to be the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer for both men and women this year,” says Dr. Brodell. “We need to make sure that everyone understands their risk for skin cancer and takes steps to prevent it as well as detect it early before it spreads.”
Informing patients of risk factors along with safe sun practice—such as seeking shade, wearing sun-protective clothing, and applying sunscreen—is critically important, says Dr. Brodell.
He also emphasizes that skin cancer is highly treatable when caught early, so it’s important to encourage everyone to perform regular skin self-exams.