Melanoma Skin Cancer

+ -Text Size

Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

What are the survival rates for melanoma skin cancer, by stage?

Survival rates are often used by doctors as a standard way of discussing a person’s prognosis (outlook). Some people may want to know the survival statistics for people in similar situations, while others may not find the numbers helpful, or may even not want to know them. If you don’t want to know them, stop reading here and skip to the next section.

The 5-year and 10-year survival rates refer to the percentage of patients who live at least this long after their cancer is diagnosed. Of course, many people live much longer than 5 or 10 years (and many are cured).

To get 5- and 10-year survival rates, doctors have to look at people who were treated at least 5 or 10 years ago. Improvements in treatment since then may result in a better outlook for people being diagnosed with melanoma now.

Survival rates are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had the disease, but they can’t predict what will happen in any person's case. Many factors other than the stage of the melanoma can also affect a person's outlook, such as the genetic changes in the cancer cells and how well the cancer responds to treatment. Even when taking these other factors into account, survival rates are at best rough estimates. Your doctor can tell you how the numbers below apply to you, as he or she knows your situation best.

The following survival rates are based on nearly 60,000 patients who were part of the 2008 AJCC Melanoma Staging Database. These are observed survival rates. They include some people diagnosed with melanoma who may have later died from other causes, such as heart disease. Therefore, the percentage of people surviving the melanoma itself may be higher.

Stage IA: The 5-year survival rate is around 97%. The 10-year survival is around 95%.

Stage IB: The 5-year survival rate is around 92%. The 10-year survival is around 86%.

Stage IIA: The 5-year survival rate is around 81%. The 10-year survival is around 67%.

Stage IIB: The 5-year survival rate is around 70%. The 10-year survival is around 57%.

Stage IIC: The 5-year survival rate is around 53%. The 10-year survival is around 40%.

Stage IIIA: The 5-year survival rate is around 78%. The 10-year survival is around 68%.*

Stage IIIB: The 5-year survival rate is around 59%. The 10-year survival is around 43%.

Stage IIIC: The 5-year survival rate is around 40%. The 10-year survival is around 24%.

Stage IV: The 5-year survival rate is about 15% to 20%. The 10-year survival is about 10% to 15%. The outlook is better if the spread is only to distant parts of the skin or distant lymph nodes rather than to other organs, and if the blood level of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) is normal.

*The survival rate is higher for stage IIIA cancers than for some stage II cancers. This is likely because the main (primary) tumor is often less advanced for IIIA cancers, although this is not clear.

Other factors affecting survival

Other factors aside from stage can also affect survival. For example:

  • Older people generally have shorter survival times, regardless of stage. The biggest drop in survival begins at age 70.
  • Melanoma is uncommon among African Americans, but when it does occur, survival times tend to be shorter than when it occurs in whites. Some studies have found that melanoma tends to be more serious if it occurs on the sole of the foot or palm of the hand, or if it is in a nail bed. (Cancers in these areas make up a larger portion of melanomas in African Americans than in whites.)
  • People with melanoma who have weakened immune systems, such as people who have had organ transplants or who are infected with HIV, also are at greater risk of dying of their melanoma.

Last Medical Review: 03/19/2015
Last Revised: 02/01/2016