Survival Rates for Melanoma Skin Cancer, by Stage
Survival rates tell you what portion of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time (usually 5 or 10 years) after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding about how likely it is that your treatment will be successful. Some people will want to know the survival rates for their cancer, and some people won’t. If you don’t want to know, you don’t have to.
What is a 5-year or 10-year survival rate?
Statistics on the outlook for a certain type and stage of cancer are often given as 5-year or 10-year survival rates, but many people live longer – often much longer. The survival rate is the percentage of people who live at least a certain amount of time after being diagnosed with cancer.
For example, a 5-year survival rate of 70% means that an estimated 70 out of 100 people who have that cancer are still alive 5 years after being diagnosed. Keep in mind, however, that many of these people live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis.
But remember, survival rates are estimates – your outlook can vary based on a number of factors specific to you.
Cancer survival rates don’t tell the whole story
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 particular person’s case. There are a number of limitations to remember:
- The numbers below are among the most current available. But to get 5-year or 10-year survival rates, doctors have to look at people who were treated at least 5 or 10 years ago. As treatments are improving over time, people who are now being diagnosed with melanoma may have a better outlook than these statistics show.
- These statistics are based on the stage of the cancer when it was first diagnosed. They do not apply to cancers that later come back or spread, for example.
- The outlook for people with melanoma varies by the stage (extent) of the cancer – in general, the survival rates are higher for people with earlier stage cancers. But many other factors can affect a person’s outlook, such as age and overall health, and how well the cancer responds to treatment. The outlook for each person is specific to their circumstances.
Your doctor can tell you how these numbers may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your particular situation.
Survival rates for melanoma
The following survival rates are based on nearly 60,000 patients who were part of the 2008 AJCC Melanoma Staging Database. These survival rates include some people diagnosed with melanoma who may have died later 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.
Remember, these survival rates are only estimates – they can’t predict what will happen to any individual. We understand that these statistics can be confusing and might lead you to have more questions. Talk to your doctor to better understand your specific situation.
Other factors affecting survival
Factors other than stage can also affect survival. For example:
- Older people generally have shorter survival times than younger people, regardless of stage.
- 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 from their melanoma.
Last Medical Review: May 19, 2016 Last Revised: May 20, 2016