Doctors collect statistical information about the different types of cancer and prognosis. Prognosis is the likely outcome of your disease and treatment. In other words, your chances of getting better and how long you are likely to live.
Cancer statistics in general
There is a section explaining more about the different types of cancer statistics in the CancerHelp UK section on Cancer Statistics. Remember – statistics are averages based on large numbers of patients. They cannot predict exactly what will happen to you. No two people are exactly alike and response to treatment also varies from one person to another.
You should feel free to ask your doctor about your prognosis, but not even your doctor can tell you for sure what will happen. You may hear your doctor use the term ‘5 year survival’. It does not mean you will only live 5 years! It relates to the proportion of people in research studies who were still alive 5 years after diagnosis. Doctors follow what happens to people for 5 years after treatment in any research study. This is because there is only a small chance that melanoma will come back more than 5 years after treatment. They do not like to say these people are cured because there is that small chance. So the term ‘5 year survival’ is used instead.
Melanoma statistics overall
The main thing you should know is that if you have had an early melanoma, with no spread to your lymph nodes or any other part of your body, then it is highly likely that simply removing it will cure you. Melanoma is more difficult to treat in the later stages. Of all those diagnosed with melanoma in England and Wales, about 86 out of every 100 people will live for at least 5 years. About 83 out of every 100 people diagnosed with melanoma will live for at least 10 years.
Prognosis by stage
As with many other types of cancer, the outcome depends on how advanced your cancer is when it is diagnosed. In other words, the stage of your melanoma.
If melanoma is diagnosed early, the survival statistics are very good. Most stage 1 and stage 2 melanomas can be cured.
One of the main factors affecting survival for people with melanoma is the thickness of the tumour when it is diagnosed. (Thickness is part of the staging for melanoma, so you can read more about it on the melanoma stages page.) More than 9 out of 10 women (96%) diagnosed with melanoma that is thinner than 1.5mm, will be alive 5 years later. For men, the rate is slightly lower. Just over 9 out of 10 (91%) will be alive 5 years after being diagnosed.
If the melanoma is over 3.5mm when it is diagnosed, then the 5 year survival rates do drop. But, in comparison to other types of cancers that are diagnosed in the later stages, the figures are still fairly good. For women in these later stages of the disease, just over 5 out of 10 (52%) will be alive 5 years later. For men, just over 4 out of 10 (42%) will be alive 5 years later.
A factor that seems to affect survival rates for people with melanoma is which social class you come from. Overall, people from higher social classes tend to have a better prognosis. This may be because they are more likely to see a doctor about their melanoma at an earlier stage, but we don’t really know the reason for sure. In England and Wales between the years 1986-1990, 8 out of 10 people diagnosed from the higher social classes were alive 5 years later. In the lower social classes, this figure dropped to just over 7 out of 10 (74%).
9 out of 10 people (90%) diagnosed with stage 1 melanoma will be alive 5 years later.
8 out of 10 people (80%) diagnosed with stage 2 melanoma will be alive 5 years later.
As you might expect, the survival statistics fall with these more advanced stages of melanoma. Between 4 and 5 out of every 10 people (40-50%) diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma will be alive 5 years later.
Understandably, the survival statistics are lower than for stage 3 melanoma. Between 2 and 3 out of every 10 people (20-30%) diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma will be alive 5 years later.
Other factors affecting prognosis
Another factors that can affect your prognosis, apart from the stage of your cancer, is how well you are overall. Doctors have a way of grading how well you are. They call this your ‘performance status’. You may see this written PS. A score of 0 means you are completely able to look after yourself. A score of 1 means you can do most things for yourself, but need some help. The scores continue to go up, depending on how much help you need. This is relevant to survival because overall, the fitter people are, the better able they are to withstand their cancer and treatment.
How reliable are cancer statistics?
No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. Your cancer is unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people for example.
The statistics are not detailed enough to tell you about the different treatments people may have had. And how that treatment may have affected their prognosis. There are many individual factors that will determine your treatment and prognosis.