Harvard Health Letter

Melanoma

The most serious form skin cancer accounts for only a small percentage of all skin cancers—but it causes 75% of skin cancer deaths.

An estimated 60,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year in the United States—about 5% of all new cancer cases. Eight thousand Americans die each year from the disease.

For decades, the incidence has been increasing, although that may be the result of more testing. And some recent research suggests that the number of new cases has leveled off in the past few years.

Risk factors

About 10% of people who get melanoma have a family history of the disease, suggesting a genetic component. If someone's parent, sibling, or child has had the disease, his or her risk of also getting melanoma is 8- to 12-times greater than someone without an affected first-degree relative. Researchers are looking but haven't yet identified any melanoma genes.

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