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What percentage of melanoma is fatal?

What percentage of melanoma is fatal?

ON THIS PAGE: You will find information about the estimated number of people who will be diagnosed with melanoma each year. You will also read general information on surviving the disease. Remember, survival rates depend on several factors, and no 2 people with cancer are the same. Use the menu to see other pages.

Every person is different, with different factors influencing their risk of being diagnosed with this cancer and the chance of recovery after a diagnosis. It is important to talk with your doctor about any questions you have around the general statistics provided below and what they may mean for you individually. The original sources for these statistics are provided at the bottom of this page.

How many people are diagnosed with melanoma?

In 2023, an estimated 97,610 adults (58,120 men and 39,490 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive melanoma of the skin. Worldwide, an estimated 324,635 people were diagnosed with melanoma in 2020.

In the United States, melanoma is the fifth most common cancer among men. It is also the fifth most common cancer among women. Melanoma is 20 times more common in White people than in Black people. The average age of diagnosis is 65. Before age 50, more women are diagnosed with melanoma than men. After age 50, rates are higher in men.

The development of melanoma is more common as people grow older. But it also develops in younger people, including those younger than 30 years old. It is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in young adults, particularly for women. In 2020, about 2,400 cases of melanoma were estimated to be diagnosed in people aged 15 to 29.

The number of people diagnosed with melanoma rose sharply for decades. However, from the early 2000s, annual incidence rates for people under age 50 stabilized in women and dropped by an estimated 1% each year in men. From 2015 to 2019, incidence rates for people age 50 and older increased by around 1% each year in women and stayed about the same in men.

Specifically, the number of adolescents aged 15 to 19 diagnosed with melanoma declined 6% each year between 2007 and 2016. The number of adults in their 20s diagnosed with the disease decreased by 3% each year. Percent means how many out of 100. For adults in their 30s, the number of people diagnosed with melanoma remained steady for women and dropped slightly for men. The decrease in melanoma in younger people is likely due in part to increased sun-protection behaviors and a reduction in indoor tanning.

Melanoma accounts for about 1% of all skin cancers diagnosed in the United States, but it causes most of the deaths from skin cancer. It is estimated that 7,990 deaths (5,420 men and 2,570 women) from melanoma will occur in the United States in 2023. However, from 2011 to 2020, deaths from melanoma decreased by around 5% each year in adults younger than 50 and 3% per year in people 50 and over. This is due to treatment advances. In 2020, an estimated 57,043 people worldwide died from melanoma.

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What is the survival rate for melanoma?

There are different types of statistics that can help doctors evaluate a person’s chance of recovery from melanoma. These are called survival statistics. A specific type of survival statistic is called the relative survival rate. It is often used to predict how having cancer may affect life expectancy. Relative survival rate looks at how likely people with melanoma are to survive for a certain amount of time after their initial diagnosis or start of treatment compared to the expected survival of similar people without this cancer.

Example: Here is an example to help explain what a relative survival rate means. Please note this is only an example and not specific to this type of cancer. Let’s assume that the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific type of cancer is 90%. “Percent” means how many out of 100. Imagine there are 1,000 people without cancer, and based on their age and other characteristics, you expect 900 of the 1,000 to be alive in 5 years. Also imagine there are another 1,000 people similar in age and other characteristics as the first 1,000, but they all have the specific type of cancer that has a 5-year survival rate of 90%. This means it is expected that 810 of the people with the specific cancer (90% of 900) will be alive in 5 years.

It is important to remember that statistics on the survival rates for people with melanoma are only an estimate. They cannot tell an individual person if cancer will or will not shorten their life. Instead, these statistics describe trends in groups of people previously diagnosed with the same disease, including specific stages of the disease.

Many people with melanoma are cured by their initial surgery. Among all people with melanoma of the skin in the United States, from the time of initial diagnosis, the 5-year relative survival rate is 94%.

The survival rates for melanoma vary based on several factors. These include a person’s age and general health, and how well the treatment plan works. Overall survival at 5 years also depends on the thickness of the primary melanoma, whether the lymph nodes are involved, and whether there is spread of melanoma to distant sites (see Stages). Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped organs that help fight infection.

For people with «thin melanoma,» defined as being less than 1 millimeter in maximal thickness, that has not spread to lymph nodes or other distant sites, the 5-year relative survival rate in the United States is 99%. However, for people with thicker melanoma, the 5-year relative survival rate may be 80% or higher.

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In the United States, the 5-year relative survival rates for melanoma that has spread to the nearby lymph nodes is 71%. However, this number is different for every patient and depends on the number of lymph nodes involved, genetic changes, the amount of tumor in the involved lymph node(s), and the features of the primary melanoma (such as thickness and whether there is ulceration).

If melanoma has spread to other, distant parts of the body, the 5-year relative survival rate is lower, about 32%. Treatment advances have doubled this survival rate since 2004. Approximately 5% of cases are diagnosed at this stage. However, survival varies depending on a number of factors. These factors are explained in detail in the Diagnosis and Stages sections.

It is important to know that these statistics do not yet reflect the effects of newer treatments for metastatic melanoma (see Types of Treatment). The pace of melanoma research is moving quickly, especially over the last 5 years.

Experts measure relative survival rate statistics for melanoma every 5 years. This means the estimate may not reflect the results of advancements in how melanoma is diagnosed or treated from the last 5 years. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about this information. Learn more about understanding statistics.

Statistics adapted from the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) publications, Cancer Facts & Figures 2023 and Cancer Facts & Figures 2020, the ACS website, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer website. (All sources accessed February 2023.)

The next section in this guide is Medical Illustrations. It offers a drawing of the layers that make up the skin. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Survival Rate

Female squamous cell carcinoma patient

In general, the squamous cell carcinoma survival rate is very high—when detected early, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent. Even if squamous cell carcinoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes, the cancer may be effectively treated through a combination of surgery and radiation treatment. Nevertheless, a patient who has been treated for squamous cell carcinoma in the past always faces the possibility of a recurrence, so lifelong monitoring to increase the chance of early detection is highly encouraged.

What do cancer survival rates mean?

When learning about cancer survival rates, it’s important to keep in mind that these statistics are based on a very large and diverse group of people. Because no two people with squamous cell carcinoma are alike, the general survival rate cannot be used to predict a specific patient’s outcome. Additionally, survival rates are broad benchmarks. While useful as a baseline point of reference for physicians, this information is not detailed enough to reflect the different treatments people have had, nor is it recent enough to include the results of the latest breakthrough treatments now available to patients through clinical trials (and possibly even the current standard of care).

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Factors affecting squamous cell carcinoma prognosis

There are a handful of factors that can affect a patient’s prognosis, including:

  • Having a weakened immune system
  • The location of the tumor—tumors found on the face, scalp, fingers and toes spread more easily, as do tumors that arise in an open wound
  • If the cancer has recurred
  • Larger tumors and those that are growing deep in the skin

Does squamous cell carcinoma spread quickly?

One of the factors that can affect a patient’s prognosis is whether the malignancy has metastasized (spread to another area of the body). Once squamous cell carcinoma has spread beyond the skin, the five-year survival rate drops to less than 50 percent. Fortunately, it’s fairly rare for squamous cell carcinoma to metastasize. Plus, when metastasis does occur, the malignancy generally spreads slowly, with the majority of cases being diagnosed before the cancer has spread past the skin’s upper layer (epidermis).

When staging squamous cell carcinoma, physicians will take a number of factors into account, one being the degree to which the cancer has already spread throughout the body. For example:

  • At Stage 0, squamous cell carcinoma has not spread beyond the epidermis.
  • At Stage 1, squamous cell carcinoma has spread deeper into the patient’s skin but has not entered any lymph nodes or healthy tissues.
  • At Stage 2, squamous cell carcinoma still has not metastasized to any lymph nodes or healthy tissues, but displays at least one high-risk feature, which might include spreading into the skin’s lower layers or the nerves.
  • At Stage 3, squamous cell carcinoma has spread into the patient’s lymph nodes but has not reached any other organs or tissues.
  • At Stage 4, which is the most advanced stage, squamous cell carcinoma has spread to at least one distant organ (for example, the brain, the lungs or another area of the skin).

What should you do after receiving a squamous cell carcinoma diagnosis?

After being diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, it’s important to act quickly, since treating this malignancy early can increase the chances of survival. One of the first things you should do is choose a cancer specialist—such as the ones at Moffitt Cancer Center—who can stage the cancer, tell you more about your condition and the treatment options available to you and answer any questions you might have.

Squamous cell carcinoma can be treated using a variety of different methods, and a cancer expert can recommend the one that’s best suited to your specific needs (the approach that’s right for you will depend on numerous factors, including your overall health and how far the malignancy has progressed). Some potential treatment options include:

  • Mohs surgery, which involves removing and examining thin layers of tissue until no more cancerous cells are found. Mohs surgery is offered in conjunction with the USF Department of Dermatology
  • Excisional surgery, which involves removing a cancerous lesion and a portion of the surrounding healthy tissue, then examining it to confirm that the cancerous cells have all been removed
  • Electrosurgery, which involves scraping away a lesion using a curette and then heating the area with an electrocautery needle in order to destroy any remaining cancerous cells and control bleeding (this approach is generally recommended only for patients with small lesions)
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Moffitt Cancer Center’s approach to squamous cell carcinoma

At Moffitt Cancer Center, our multispecialty team of cancer experts takes a highly individualized approach to squamous cell carcinoma treatment. We offer the latest diagnostic and treatment options, and we work closely with each patient to offer customized guidance and help ensure the best possible outcome. For instance, there are many steps a patient can take to improve his or her own squamous cell carcinoma prognosis—regardless of the general survival rate—such as:

  • Performing self-examinations from head to toe, including parts of the body that are not regularly exposed to UV rays, at least monthly, and promptly reporting any suspicious or unusual changes in skin texture or appearance to a physician
  • Seeing a physician for a professional skin cancer examination yearly (or more often, if recommended due to individual risk factors)
  • Avoiding exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays; while outdoors, preventive measures include seeking shade, wearing sunglasses and a brimmed hat, covering up with clothing and using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection (applied 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied immediately after swimming or sweating, or every two hours at minimum)
  • Never using indoor tanning beds

If you’d like to learn more about the squamous cell carcinoma survival rate, the experts at Moffitt can put this information into the proper context for you and help you take appropriate steps to achieve the best possible outcome. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online. At Moffitt, we understand how important it is to get started on the right treatment plan as early as possible, so we’ll connect you with a cancer expert within just one day.


Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer because it has a tendency to spread quickly to other parts of the body (metastasize). Most melanomas appear as dark growths similar to moles, but some may be pink, red or skin-colored. Melanoma is very treatable when detected early, but can be fatal if allowed to spread throughout the body. The goal is to detect melanoma early, when it is still on the surface of the skin.

Melanoma Facts

  • The incidence of many common cancers is falling, but the incidence of melanoma continues to rise significantly, at a rate faster than that of any of the seven most common cancers.
  • Approximately 68,720 melanomas will be diagnosed this year, with nearly 8,650 resulting in death.
  • Melanoma accounts for about three percent of skin cancer cases, but it causes more than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths.
  • Melanoma mortality increased by about 33 percent from 1975–90, but has remained relatively stable since 1990.
  • Survival with melanoma increased from 49 percent between 1950 and 1954 to 92 percent between 1996 and 2003.
  • More than 20 Americans die each day from skin cancer, primarily melanoma. One person dies of melanoma almost every hour (every 62 minutes).
  • The survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early, before the tumor has penetrated the epidermis, is about 99 percent. The survival rate falls to 15 percent for those with advanced disease.
  • Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer for males and sixth most common for females.
  • Women aged 39 and under have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer except breast cancer.
  • Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old.
  • About 65 percent of melanoma cases can be attributed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
  • One in 55 people will be diagnosed with melanoma during their lifetime.
  • One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
  • A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns at any age.
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Sometimes the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of an existing mole. Most melanomas have a black or blue-black area. Melanoma also may appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or “ugly looking». More advanced melanoma may have a hard or lumpy texture. More advanced tumors may itch, ooze, or bleed, but are usually not painful.



Excessive sun exposure, especially severe blistering sunburns during childhood or use of tanning beds can cause melanoma. Early detection and treatment are critical to a successful recovery. We recommend that you get an annual full body skin check with your dermatologist. Monthly self-exams are important for anyone at risk for developing skin cancer. Watch for these changes in moles and report them to your doctor:

  • Asymmetry with one half of a mole a different shape than the other half
  • Border edge is ragged, notched or blurred
  • Color is uneven with a variety of hues in the same mole, with areas of black, brown, tan, white, grey, red, pink or blue
  • Diameter increases to a size larger than the eraser of a pencil (1/4-inch)


The best treatment is early detection! Your doctor will recommend a treatment based on your medical history and the depth and location of the melanoma. Depending on the size of the tumor, a referral to a surgeon who specializes in cancer surgery may be recommended. Examination by a dermatologist can help to determine whether or not a lesion is suspicious for melanoma.

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