What is the prevalence of oral malignant melanoma?

Updated: Jan 31, 2020
  • Author: Elizabeth Ann Bilodeau, DMD, MD, MSEd; Chief Editor: Jeff Burgess, DDS, MSD  more...
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In contrast to the incidence of cutaneous melanoma, which continues to rise, the incidence of oral melanoma has remained stable for more than 30 years.

Surveillance data in the United States are not available for oral melanoma alone. Data for oral melanoma are included in the combined statistics for oral cancer. In a review of the large studies, melanoma of the oral cavity is reported to account for 0.2-8% of melanomas and approximately 1.6% of all malignancies of the head and neck. [2]  In some studies, primary lesions of the lip and nasal cavity also are included in the statistics, thereby increasing the incidence.

A critical review of the literature by Hicks and Flaitz found that the vast majority of melanomas occur on the skin (91.2%); ocular melanomas account for 5.3%, unknown primary lesions account for 2.2%, and melanomas of the mucous membrane account for 1.3%. [3] The oral mucosa is primarily involved in less than 1% of melanomas, and the most common locations are the hard palate and maxillary gingiva. [4] Metastatic melanoma most frequently affects the mandible, tongue, and buccal mucosa.

Internationally, oral melanoma is more common in the Japanese than in other groups. This observation is based on a review of frequently cited historical literature. Oral malignant melanoma, although rare in white persons, remains a major cause for concern. In Japan, oral melanomas account for 11-12.4% of all melanomas, and males may be affected slightly more often than females. [5] This percentage is higher than the 0.2-8% reported in the United States and Europe. Since cutaneous melanoma is less common in more darkly pigmented races, people of these races have a greater relative incidence of oral mucosal melanoma. [6]

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