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Survival Rates for Malignant Melanoma

written by: AngelicaMD • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 4/11/2011

The incidence of skin cancer has been increasing since the last century. However, survival rates are also increasing because of better understanding of the disease and early detection. Learn more about malignant melanoma survival rate and what factors affect it.

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    Cancer Survival Rate

    Survival rate is a term used to describe an observed percentage of patients who live five or ten years after they are diagnosed with a disease, usually cancer. Although some patients live beyond this predicted outlook, cancer survival rates serve as a guide for prognosis and making certain decisions as to choice of treatment.

    Survival rates are best estimates based on large numbers of patients who had the disease but do not necessarily apply for every patient. Many factors affect each person’s survival rate including advanced age, lifestyle factors, adequacy of treatment, concomitant diseases (like heart disease, diabetes, etc) and others. Early detection and improvements in treatment strategies and techniques also affect cancer survival rates which may change periodically.

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    Malignant Melanoma Survival Rate

    The American Joint Committee on Cancer published the 2008 Melanoma Staging Database based on the observed survival rates for malignant melanoma among nearly 60,000 patients. These show the percentages of patient survival five and ten years after they were diagnosed and treated according to the stage of the disease, where Stage I reflects early detection and Stage IV means advanced skin cancer upon diagnosis. They are as follows (approximate percentage for five year / ten year survival rate):

    Stage IA: 97% / 95%

    Stage IB: 92% / 86%

    Stage IIA: 81% / 67%

    Stage IIB: 70% / 57%

    Stage IIC: 53% / 40%

    Stage IIIA: 78% / 59%

    Stage IIIB: 59% / 43%

    Stage IIIC: 40% / 24%

    Stage IV: 15% to 20% / 10% to 15%

    A note on melanoma staging should be clarified, that is, staging depends on the following:

    • Thickness or depth of the melanoma, which may be less than 1mm to more than 4 mm
    • Presence or absence of ulceration (sore)
    • Localized tumor, not involving other tissues or organ beyond the skin
    • Involvement of lymph nodes and other distant organs like the liver, lungs and brain – also known as spread or metastasis

    Poorer prognosis or lower survival rates are associated with late stages where skin cancer tumors are thicker than 4mm, with ulceration and lymph node and other organ involvement. Early stages with localized tumors that are less than 4mm thick, with no ulceration or spread of malignant cells have a better prognosis and most people live beyond ten years after diagnosis.

    It is therefore important to emphasize that early detection of the signs and symptoms of malignant melanoma improves chances of survival, especially when given adequate treatment. Furthermore, controlling other factors that may affect survival like heart disease, lifestyle factors and other health promoting measures may help increase survival rate from skin cancer.

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    References

    American Cancer Society, “Melanoma Skin Cancer", http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/SkinCancer-Melanoma/DetailedGuide/melanoma-skin-cancer-survival-rates

    Darrell S. Rigel, MD, et al, "Malignant Melanoma:Prevention, Early Detection, and Treatment in the 21st Century", http://caonline.amcancersoc.org/cgi/reprint/50/4/215.pdf