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Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers in the Millions and Rising
Date:3/15/2010

Numbers have grown steadily since the 1990s; baby boomer epidemic predicted

MONDAY, March 15 (HealthDay News) -- The incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer has steadily increased since the 1990s, making it by far the most common form of cancer, affecting more people than all other cancers combined, two new studies find.

More than 2 million Americans on Medicare were treated for non-melanoma skin cancer in 2006, up from 1.6 million in 1992, according to one study. The other found that one in five 70-year-olds has been treated for non-melanoma skin cancer.

Researchers called non-melanoma skin cancer an "epidemic" that is only going to get worse as all those bathing beauties and sun worshippers from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s get older, and their cumulative sun exposure racks up.

"We are dealing with a problem that is not going away," said Dr. Howard Rogers, a dermatologist in Norwich, Conn., and lead author of one of the studies. "The number has kept going up and up at a rate of 4.2 percent every year, on average, from 1992 to 2006," he said.

The studies are published in the March issue of the Archives of Dermatology.

The two types of non-melanoma skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell. While basal cell carcinoma is slow-growing and rarely fatal, it can damage the surrounding tissue and bone if it's not caught early, causing disfigurement when the cancer is removed.

Squamous cell carcinoma is also rarely fatal, though it can metastasize and spread to the lymph nodes and other organs, Rogers said. When caught early, squamous cell carcinomas are also highly treatable.

In the study by Rogers and colleagues, the researchers analyzed data from two Medicare databases and national surveys. They found the total number of procedures to treat skin cancer in the Medicare population increased by nearly 77 percent between 1992 and 2006. Between 2002 and 2006 alone, skin cance
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