Skin cancer (melanoma) - What will happen to me?
BMJ Group Medical Reference
If you've been told that you have melanoma it's normal to want to know what will happen to you. We can give you a general idea of what has happened to people with melanoma. But it's important to remember that everyone is different, and there's no way of knowing exactly what will happen.
If you don't want to look at statistics about what tends to happen to people with melanomas then skip this section. If you do look at these numbers, bear in mind that you are not a statistic. Everyone responds to cancer treatment in a different way.
Overall, people who find their melanoma early and get treatment do well. If you are like most people and your melanoma is found before it has spread, there is a good chance that you will be cured. More than 9 in 10 people with a melanoma that is found early are still alive after five years. Most studies follow people who have had treatment for a melanoma for five years. If you have been clear of cancer for that length of time, doctors tend to say you are cured.
Some things seem to be important for how long people with a melanoma live:
How thick the melanoma is
Whether it has spread to the lymph nodes nearby
How it looks under a microscope.
If you find your melanoma before it is too thick, your chances are very good. Nearly 19 in 20 people who have a stage 1 melanoma are alive at least five years after being diagnosed. Stage 1 is the least serious type of melanoma. (If you want to know more about the stages of melanomas, see How melanomas are classified.)
If your melanoma hasn't spread to your lymph nodes or to other parts of your body, there are two other things that determine what may happen to you.
Your sex. Women with a melanoma seem to do better than men.
Where the melanoma is on your body. People whose melanoma is on their trunk (between their neck and their waist) seem to do less well than people whose melanoma is on their arms or legs. Also, people whose melanoma is on their scalp or neck seem to do less well than people whose melanoma is somewhere else.
If you want to find out how long people who have had a melanoma live, see Survival statistics for melanomas. But please bear in mind when you look at this page that statistics cannot tell you what will happen to you as an individual. Everyone is different.
Will my melanoma come back after surgery?
After your melanoma is removed, you may wonder whether it will come back. There are three places a melanoma can come back:
Close to the same spot on your skin
In the lymph nodes nearby or other parts of your body nearby
In an organ somewhere else in your body, such as your lungs or brain.