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In recent decades, the number of cases of melanoma in the United States has seen an alarming increase. This may be due to a combination of increased sun exposure, more frequent early detection, and people living longer. Overall, melanoma is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States.

Melanoma is many times more common in people with white skin than in any other racial or ethnic group. In fact, some research suggests that a white person is 20 to 30 times more likely to develop melanoma than a person with black skin.

The cause of most melanoma cases is overexposure to ultraviolet, or UV, radiation from the sun or tanning beds, but there are genetic factors that may play a role as well. Research shows that having had five or more blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 increases the risk of developing melanoma by 80 percent. Studies also suggest that use of indoor tanning beds before the age of 35 can increase the risk of melanoma by almost 60 percent, and the risk increases with each use.

Melanoma accounts for a very small percentage of skin cancer cases, but it causes the vast majority of skin cancer deaths. If melanoma is detected early, the survival rate is greater than 98 percent. Unfortunately, the survival rate falls below 25 percent when melanoma has spread to other parts of the body.

Early detection and diagnosis of melanoma, and all skin cancers, are vital to successful treatment.