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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.

Recommended Related to Melanoma/Skin Cancer

Understanding Skin Cancer -- Diagnosis and Treatment

All potentially cancerous skin growths must be biopsied to confirm a cancer diagnosis. Depending on the suspected type of skin cancer, the biopsy techniques vary slightly but crucially. Any potential melanoma requires a surgical biopsy, in which the entire growth is removed with a scalpel if possible. A pathologist then studies the sample under a microscope to determine whether cancer cells are present. If melanoma is diagnosed, other tests may be ordered to assess the degree of cancer spread (metastasis)...

Read the Understanding Skin Cancer -- Diagnosis and Treatment article > >

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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