World Health Organization Predicts Half a Million With Melanoma in 2040


Without intervention today, the number of people affected by melanoma will skyrocket. The World Health Organization warns that new diagnoses of cutaneous melanoma will increase considerably by 2040, if nothing changes. The number of worldwide cases is predicted to increase from 324,635 in 2020 to 510,000 in 2040.

Even more concerning is the projection that melanoma deaths will increase by more than half (68%) within that same time. In 2020, 57,043 deaths were estimated from melanoma. Predictions suggest worldwide deaths will reach 96,000 by 2040.

However, this future with skyrocketing numbers of melanoma is not guaranteed. It can be altered. These predictions assume that the rate of melanoma stays the same. In other words, the model assumes the main thing changing is an increase in the population size. More people equals more melanoma.

In 2040, if the population size increases and the composition of the people uniformly increases in age, sex, and race, melanoma will affect more people than it did in 2020. The composition is important especially in areas where cutaneous melanoma impacts fair-skinned populations.

Leading regions driving the total number include those populations residing in North America (105,182 individuals) and Europe (150,672 individuals), particularly Central, Eastern, Northern, and Western Europe. These regions of the world are considered “high-incidence populations” for their genetic risk of melanoma.

Interventions like sun safety campaigns have the potential to alter this future trajectory since the prediction relies on population growth. Any major impact on incidence could change the future course of melanoma. For example, decreasing the number of melanoma cases more than 3% worldwide transforms the prediction.

A 1% decrease in 2020 numbers is not enough. Such a small change surprisingly still causes a modest rise in melanoma cases by 2040, but slows the skyrocketing prediction. However, a change of 3% would substantially impact melanoma in 2040. That means if 3 individuals out of 100 would implement skin safety today, avoiding melanoma in the future, numbers would not skyrocket in 2040. Cases would decline.

The study was published by a multinational group of researchers affiliated with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The IARC was created in 1965 as the cancer arm of the World Health Organization. The IARC regularly publishes documents classifying cancer-causing materials – the IARC Monographs of agents carcinogenic to humans. The most recent 2024 monograph evaluates aspartame. Previous monographs include solar and UV radiation evaluations and the “positive associations between risk for melanoma and a history of sunburn.” (IARC 1992)

In the current study, the authors used the public IARC database GLOBOCAN 2020 from the Global Cancer Observatory to derive number of invasive melanoma of the skin for the predictions. The authors analyzed data on cancer from 185 countries worldwide and coupled that information with population data from the United Nations.

The predominant risk for developing melanoma consistently applies to males worldwide, which is usually higher than females, with exceptions in a few countries. The most significant cumulative or percentage risk on the population occurs in Australia and New Zealand. In those countries, approximately 1 in 20 males and 1 in 30 females will be diagnosed with the disease by 75 years of age.

The lowest 2020 incidence rates of melanoma occurred in regions of Africa and Asia. Although Eastern Asia had a low number of global cases (7.3% or 23,698 individuals), this region had a disproportionate number of deaths from melanoma (21.0% or 11,979 individuals) in 2020.

The study cited the carcinogenic effects of solar radiation as the causative factor for melanoma. UV radiation leading to DNA mutations and the suppression of the immune system is the critical risk factor for melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers. The susceptibility of those with lighter skin pigmentation reflects the higher incidence rates in populations of Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North America, and Norway. In contrast, the lower incidence rates observed in Africa, Central America, Asia, and South America reflect the differences in pigmentation among the various populations.

Mortality rates were highest among melanoma in Australia and New Zealand. Surviving the disease depended on the tumor thickness and the stage of melanoma at diagnosis. However, females showed superior survival. Overall, five-year survival ranges between 60-90% across the globe.


This summary is based on the article by Arnold M, Singh D, Laversanne M et al. Global Burden of Cutaneous Melanoma in 2020 and Projections to 2040. JAMA Dermatol. 2022;158(5):495-503 and also includes results from the International Agency for Research on Cancer: IAC MONOGRAHS ON THE EVALUATION OF CARCINOGENIC RISKS TO HUMANS. Solar and Ultraviolet Radiation. 1992;55:1-291.