+ -Text Size

Skin Cancer Research Highlights

Skin cancer is by far the most common cancer in the U.S., making it an important area of focus for the American Cancer Society. The exact number of all skin cancers that are diagnosed each year is unknown because the most common types – basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers – are not required to be reported to cancer registries. About 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are diagnosed every year. An estimated 76,380 cases of melanoma, a less common but more serious form of skin cancer, are expected in 2016.

We know a lot about what causes skin cancer, but we’re still learning how best to prevent and treat it. Each year, skin cancer rates continue to rise. Research to discover the most effective ways to prevent and treat all types of skin cancer remains a priority for the Society.

From ACS Researchers

The American Cancer Society employs a staff of full-time researchers who relentlessly pursue the answers that help us understand how to prevent, detect, and treat cancer, including skin cancer.

The Society publishes Cancer Facts & Figures annually, which provides detailed analyses of cancer incidence and mortality trends in the U.S., as well as the latest information on risk factors, early detection, treatment, and current research. Key skin cancer findings include:

  • Many of the millions of skin cancer cases diagnosed annually could be prevented by protecting skin from excessive sun exposure and avoiding indoor tanning.
  • An estimated 76,380 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma and more than 10,000 will die from it in 2016.
  • The five-year survival rate for melanoma of the skin has increased from 82% in the mid-1970s to 92% for cases diagnosed during 2005-2011.


The Society’s internal research team is also:

  • Analyzing data on an ongoing basis from Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II), which the Society began in 1982, to investigate linkages between lifestyle and skin cancer.
  • Conducting a new multi-year cancer prevention study, CPS-3, to better understand ways to prevent cancer, including skin cancer.

ACS-Funded Research and Training Grants in Skin Cancer*

The Society also supports an Extramural Grants program that funds individual investigators engaged in cancer research or training at medical schools, universities, research institutes and hospitals throughout the U.S. Following rigorous and independent peer review, the most innovative research projects are selected for support.

Total ACS grants currently in effect addressing skin cancer: 64
Total ACS grant funding currently committed to skin cancer: $20,844,510

Spotlight on grantees: The following are just a few of the skin cancer investigators currently being funded by the American Cancer Society who are working to find the answers that will save more lives and better prevent, treat, and manage skin cancer.

Leah Ferrucci 150x150Young women are the heaviest users of tanning beds. That’s why Leah Ferrucci, PhD, at Yale University, is developing a web-based intervention to reduce indoor tanning among young women recently diagnosed with a non-cancerous skin condition related to UV exposure. The researcher will also develop a method to prevent adolescent girls from trying indoor tanning. Interventions to stop or prevent tanning bed use could potentially result in fewer skin cancer cases and deaths. The Society recommends people avoid tanning beds completely.


He Yu-YingSkin cancer prevention efforts are also focused on another group at high risk for skin cancer: organ transplant recipients, whose numbers are growing as more people survive these procedures. The immune-suppressing drugs needed to prevent organ rejection leave organ transplant recipients highly vulnerable to the skin-damaging effects of UV exposure. Yu-Ying He, PhD, at the University of Chicago, is looking at whether suppression of the immune system is the only factor at play or if other mechanisms are making these patients more susceptible to UV damage. The hope is to develop targeted strategies to prevent skin cancer in this at-risk group.

Kyle Hadden Kyle Hadden, PhD, at the University of Connecticut, is investigating whether vitamin D, which the body creates naturally when in the sun, has the potential to be used as a starting point in the creation of new drugs to treat skin cancer. Hadden is working with vitamin D because it has been shown to inhibit a pathway in the body’s cells known as the Hedgehog pathway. This pathway is usually inactive in normal adult cells, but if it mistakenly activates, it may contribute to the development of a variety of tumors, including skin. Blocking malfunctioning Hedgehog pathways with vitamin D may be a treatment strategy for these tumors.

close up of dropperXiaoyang Wu, PhD, at the University of Chicago, is studying a protein called RIPK4, which affects the role skin cancer stem cells play in the growth of skin tumors, such as squamous cell carcinoma. Wu hopes that by better understanding the mechanisms that control the behaviors of skin cancer stem cells, his work will lead to the development of new treatments for the disease.


*Information current as of May 2016.

Other Ways ACS Fights Skin Cancer

In addition to conducting and funding skin cancer research, the American Cancer Society helps fight skin cancer through education, support services, and advocacy. Explore how the Society helps>