Survival rates for melanoma can help provide a generic baseline for a person’s outlook. However, several factors play a role in determining outcomes, and the condition will affect each person differently.

Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer. After making a diagnosis, a doctor will provide more information about melanoma to their patient, potentially including the 5-year relative survival rate.

This article reviews the relative survival rates for melanoma and factors that can affect a person’s outlook. It also looks at symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and more.

A relative survival rate helps give an idea of how long a person with a particular condition will live after receiving a diagnosis compared with those without the condition. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate is 70%, it means that a person with the condition is 70% as likely to live for 5 years as someone without the condition.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates. A person can consult a healthcare professional about how their condition is going to affect them.

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The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program collects data about melanoma incidence and relative survival rates. It breaks survival rates down based on stage, but it does not list the stages as 1 through 4.

SEER’s 5-year relative survival rate breaks stages down as follows:

  • Local: SEER defines this as stage 1, which is melanoma that has not spread. It may also include stages 0 and 2.
  • Regional: Melanoma has spread to local tissue and lymph nodes. This may include stage 3 melanoma.
  • Distant: Melanoma has metastasized and spread to distant organs or tissue. This may include stage 4 melanoma.
  • Unknown: This combines all melanoma cases where a doctor did not have enough data to stage the cancer.


The 5-year relative survival rate for local melanoma is 99.6%, according to SEER.

The Melanoma Research Alliance states that the local stage includes both stages 0 and 2. It reports a survival rate of 98.4%. It is important to note that the overall survival rate is different from the relative survival rate.

The survival rate refers to the proportion of people who are still alive for a length of time after receiving a particular diagnosis. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 50% means that 50%, or half, of the people are still alive 5 years after receiving the diagnosis.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates and are based on the results of previous studies or treatments. A person can consult a healthcare professional about how their condition is going to affect them.

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According to SEER, the 5-year relative survival rate for regional melanoma is 73.9%.

SEER does not specify which numerical stages the “regional” classification includes, but the Melanoma Research Alliance notes that regional melanoma refers to stage 3.

The organization also reports a 5-year survival rate of 63.6%.


Distant means the cancer has spread or metastasized to other areas of the body. It may refer to stage 4 melanoma.

According to SEER, the 5-year relative survival rate for distant melanoma is 35.1%. The Melanoma Research Alliance places the survival rate at 22.5%.


SEER also collects data on 5-year relative survival rate when the exact stage is not known. SEER instructs doctors to report a cancer stage as “unknown” if they lack sufficient data to stage the cancer.

According to SEER, the 5-year relative survival rate for melanoma when the stage is unknown is 92.6%.

Collecting data

A key feature of 5-year relative survival rates is where or when the data comes from.

SEER based the reported 5-year relative survival rates on data collected from 2013–2019.

The Melanoma Research Alliance did not specify what years it covers. However, it does note that the data is from 5–10 years ago.

Newer, potentially better treatments may exist today. This means that the survival rates may not reflect the latest treatment options available that may increase a person’s chances of survival.

Several factors influence survival rates and a person’s individual outcomes.

It is worth noting that survival rates are based on the stage of cancer when a person first receives the diagnosis, and they may be based on older, possibly less effective treatments.

Survival rates are not individualized. They do not represent a person’s actual numbers and likelihood of survival.

The following factors can affect a person’s outlook:

  • age
  • location of the cancer
  • overall health
  • response to treatment
  • type of melanoma

A person’s doctor can provide them with more accurate information about their own outlook based on their individual circumstances.

Learn more about the outlook for those with skin cancer.

Early stages of melanoma may look like a mole. Other signs and symptoms can include:

  • a new spot on the skin that appears different than others
  • a changing or growing mole
  • a mole or spot with a jagged border or more than one color
  • dark-brown or black vertical lines beneath toenails or fingernails
  • a thick patch of skin that is growing slowly
  • a dome-shaped or sore-like growth that is firm to the touch and may bleed
  • a band of darker skin around a fingernail or toenail

It is best to contact a doctor if a person experiences symptoms of melanoma. The doctor will be able to order tests to confirm the diagnosis and then stage the cancer.

Learn more about melanoma symptoms.

A doctor will likely refer a person to a dermatologist for diagnosis if they suspect melanoma.

To diagnose the cancer, a dermatologist will:

  • closely examine the skin
  • discuss symptoms
  • ask about any medications the person is currently taking
  • review the person’s personal and family medical history

A biopsy is typically necessary to confirm the diagnosis. This involves taking a sample of the affected skin for laboratory analysis.

If they find cancer, they will be able to tell how deep it is as well as how quickly it is developing. They may also be able to determine the stage.

Imaging tests can help with staging melanoma. These include:

A person’s doctor can advise on which tests to order and what they involve.

Treatment for melanoma depends on several factors, including:

  • how deep it goes into the skin
  • a person’s overall health
  • whether it has spread to other areas of the body

Where possible, doctors recommend surgical removal of the tumor.

People with more advanced stages may also require:

  • removal of local lymph nodes
  • immunotherapy
  • radiation
  • chemotherapy
  • targeted therapy

Learn more about treatments for melanoma.

In general, treatment focuses on removing the melanoma with surgery. Other treatments may help shrink the tumor and prevent it from growing or progressing to another stage.

Survival rates can provide a person with melanoma with some general information about their outlook. However, each person will have a different experience, and it is best to talk with a doctor for more information about what to expect after a diagnosis.

Melanoma may appear as an irregular-looking mole or growth. A person’s doctor can advise on suitable treatments to remove the tumor and prevent it from growing.

A person who finds melanoma early — before it spreads — has the highest chance of survival. Treatment of early stages may only require surgery, but deeper or more advanced cases may require additional treatments.