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Non-melanoma skin cancer killing more people than melanoma, new study finds

by | Oct 17, 2023 | Blog, Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

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Key Takeaways

  • “Non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) is causing a greater number of global deaths than melanoma, the more serious form of skin cancer,” as revealed at the European Academy of Dermatology and Venerology (EADV) Congress 2023.
  • In 2020 alone, NMSC claimed over 63,700 lives worldwide.
  • In contrast, melanoma, known for its severity, caused 57,000 deaths during the same year.


For years, melanoma has been in the spotlight as one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. Yet, a groundbreaking study showcased at the EADV Congress 2023 has surfaced, bringing to light the mounting global health threat posed by NMSC.

NMSC: A Closer Look at the Data and Risks

New data presented at the EADV Congress 2023 paints a stark picture: In 2020, NMSC was responsible for a staggering 63,700 deaths. To put this in perspective, melanoma, which has been labeled as the “more serious” form of skin cancer, resulted in 57,000 deaths during the same time frame.[1] 

Historically, NMSC has often been sidelined, considered less severe, and sometimes not even included in national cancer registries.[4]  Yet, as the recent study underscores, “rarely fatal” does not equate to “never fatal.” The sheer prevalence of NMSC, despite its typically less aggressive nature, can cumulatively result in significant mortality, as demonstrated.


UV Exposure: The Common Culprit Behind NMSC

Both melanoma and NMSC have a shared adversary: ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Whether it’s from basking under the sun during vacations or artificial exposure from tanning beds, UV radiation is a prominent risk factor.[3]  Over the decades, changing holiday behaviors and attitudes towards tanning have heightened these risks, especially in fair-skinned individuals. Yet, even darker-skinned populations aren’t shielded entirely from this threat.[2] 


Origins and Differences: Understanding NMSC and Melanoma

The cellular birthplaces of melanoma and NMSC differ significantly. Chronic UV exposure tends to result in NMSC tumors, predominantly surfacing on the face and head. On the other end, sporadic, intense sunburns are typically associated with melanoma, which often manifests on the trunk. While NMSC arises from keratinocytes, melanoma originates from melanocytes, the cells responsible for our skin pigment.


Metastasis and Mortality: The Unseen Dangers of NMSC

A primary reason cancers are fatal is due to metastasis—the process wherein cancer cells spread to other body parts. Melanoma cells are adept at this process, while NMSC cells are less so[5] . Yet, the overwhelming prevalence of NMSC makes it a significant contributor to global cancer-related deaths.


The Global Data Dilemma

Gathering cohesive, accurate global data on NMSC remains a challenge. Disparities in data collection and reporting methodologies across countries contribute to this obstacle. Despite these challenges, one clear insight from the study remains: the geographical location can significantly impact survival rates post an NMSC diagnosis[4] .

Early Detection and Treatment

The path to combatting the rising threat of NMSC lies in early detection and treatment. Whether the existing underestimation of NMSC’s severity has contributed to late diagnoses remains a point of contention. However, advancements in melanoma treatments in regions like the U.S. suggest there’s hope, with mortality rates declining despite a rise in cases[6].


The findings presented at the EADV Congress 2023 are a clarion call to the global medical community. The overshadowed threat of NMSC requires immediate attention, aligned strategies, and a reinvigorated commitment to awareness, early detection, and treatment.

  1. European Academy of Dermatology and Venerology. Non-melanoma skin cancer killing more people than melanoma, new study finds. Available at:
  2. Brady J, Kashlan R, Ruterbusch J, Farshchian M, Moossavi M. Racial Disparities in Patients with Melanoma: A Multivariate Survival Analysis. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2021;14:547-550. Published 2021 May 24. doi:10.2147/CCID.S311694
  3. Urban K, Mehrmal S, Uppal P, et al. The global burden of skin cancer: A longitudinal analysis from the Global Burden of Disease Study, 1990-2017. JAAD Int. 2021;2:98-108.
  4. Lomas A, Leonardi-Bee J, Bath-Hextall F. A systematic review of worldwide incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Br J Dermatol. 2012;166(5):1069-1080.
  5. Dillekås H, Rogers MS, Straume O. Are 90% of deaths from cancer caused by metastases? Cancer Med. 2019;8(12):5574-5576.
  6. Kahlon N, Doddi S, Yousif R, et al. Melanoma Treatments and Mortality Rate Trends in the US, 1975 to 2019. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(12):e2245269. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.45269

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