How Long Do You Have to Live with Melanoma?

Ask a Doctor

My coworker just took a medical leave of absence because she said she has metastatic melanoma. She put a brave face on it, but I know this is a very serious form of skin cancer. What is the prognosis for melanoma? How long do you have to live with melanoma?

Doctor’s Response

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It is the leading cause of cancer death in women age 25-30 and the second leading cause of cancer death in women age 30-35.

The amount of time you have to live after being diagnosed with melanoma depends on the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis, as well your age, overall health, and whether you have other medical conditions. The cure rate is relatively high in the early stages. Once the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body the survival rate is much lower.

Life expectancy for cancers is often expressed as a 5-year survival rate (the percent of patients who will be alive 5 years after diagnosis). The overall average 5-year survival rate for all patients with melanoma is 92%. This means 92 of every 100 people diagnosed with melanoma will be alive in 5 years. In the very early stages the 5-year survival rate is 99%. Once melanoma has spread to the lymph nodes the 5-year survival rate is 63%. If melanoma spreads to other parts of the body, the 5-year survival drops to just 20%.

Prognosis is most closely related to the thickness of the melanoma as measured by the pathologist. Other factors of importance include

  • the anatomic depth of penetration,
  • ulceration,
  • mitotic activity (rate of cell dividing),
  • gene expression studies, and
  • stage of the melanoma.

This is why it is of great importance to remove the entire melanoma at its earliest stage to preclude the possibility of metastatic spread, as well as determining the accurate thickness of the tumor.

In addition, new genetic tests are available that can help predict a particular tumor's sensitivity of a variety drug regimens. For example, patients whose melanoma expresses a BRAF mutation are likely to respond to vemurafenib and dabrafenib with a substantial prolongation of overall survival. Other mutations signify that other drugs are more likely to be effective.

For more information, read our full medical article on melanoma.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD coauthored this article


American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Melanoma: Statistics. July 2016. 7 January 2019 .

Melanoma Research Foundation. Melanoma Facts and Stats. 8 January 2018. 7 January 2019 .