Survival Rates for Melanoma Skin Cancer

Survival rates can give you an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.

Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates and are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had a specific cancer, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. These statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk with your doctor about how these numbers may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your situation.

What is a 5-year relative survival rate?

A relative survival rate compares people with the same type and stage of cancer to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of melanoma of the skin is 90%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 90% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.

Where do these numbers come from?

The American Cancer Society relies on information from the SEER* database, maintained by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to provide survival statistics for different types of cancer.

The SEER database tracks 5-year relative survival rates for melanoma skin cancer in the United States, based on how far the cancer has spread. The SEER database, however, does not group cancers by AJCC TNM stages (stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, etc.). Instead, it groups cancers into localized, regional, and distant stages:

  • Localized: There is no sign that the cancer has spread beyond the skin where it started. This would include AJCC stage I and stage II cancers.
  • Regional: The cancer has spread beyond the skin where it started to nearby structures or lymph nodes. This would include mainly stage III cancers in the AJCC system.
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver, or skin on other parts of the body. This would include stage IV cancers.

5-year relative survival rates for melanoma skin cancer

(Based on people diagnosed with melanoma between 2008 and 2014.)

SEER stage

5-year relative survival rate

Localized

98%

Regional

64%

Distant

23%

All SEER stages combined

92%

 

Understanding the numbers

  • These numbers apply only to the stage of the cancer when it is first diagnosed. They do not apply later on if the cancer grows, spreads, or comes back after treatment.
  • These numbers don’t take everything into account. Survival rates are grouped based on how far the cancer has spread, but your age, overall health, how well the cancer responds to treatment, and other factors can also affect your outlook. For example, younger people tend to have a better outlook than older people, regardless of the stage. And people who have weakened immune systems, such as those who have had organ transplants or who are infected with HIV, are at greater risk of dying from their melanoma.
  • People now being diagnosed with melanoma may have a better outlook than these numbers show. Treatments improve over time, and these numbers are based on people who were diagnosed and treated at least five years earlier.

*SEER = Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: May 19, 2016 Last Revised: February 1, 2019

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