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What Happens

Melanoma develops when normal pigment-producing skin cells called melanocytes become abnormal, grow uncontrollably, and invade surrounding tissues. Usually only one melanoma develops at a time. Melanomas can begin in an existing mole or other skin growth, but most start in unmarked skin.

When melanoma is found early, it can often be cured by surgery to remove it. But after melanoma spreads, it is harder to cure.

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Understanding Skin Cancer -- the Basics

Skin cancers involve abnormal cell changes in the outer layer of skin. It is by far the most common cancer in the world, accounting for 75% of all cancer diagnoses. Most cases are cured, but the disease is a major health concern because it affects so many people. The incidence of skin cancer is rising, even though most cases could be prevented by limiting the skin's exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Skin cancer is about three times more common in men than in women, and the...

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Experts talk about prognosis in terms of "5-year survival rates." The 5-year survival rate means the percentage of people who are still alive 5 years or longer after their cancer was discovered. Remember that these are only averages. Everyone's case is different, and these numbers don't necessarily show what will happen to you. The estimated 5-year survival rate for melanoma is:2

  • 98% if cancer is found early and treated before it has spread.
  • 62% if the cancer has spread to close-by tissue.
  • 15% if the cancer has spread farther away, such as to the liver, brain, or bones.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 29, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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