Though melanoma is not the most common form of skin cancer, it is considered to be the most serious and life-threatening.¹ It is more likely to grow and metastasize, meaning that prompt treatment for advanced melanoma is crucial even with early detection.
In recent years, however, immunotherapy has made strides in improving survival rates in patients with melanoma and afforded them better long-term prognoses. This therapy uses substances to help boost the patient’s immune system defenses, with options such as immune checkpoint inhibitors and tumor necrosis factor therapy.² What are the survival rates for melanoma, and how has immunotherapy affected them?
The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database divides melanoma cases not by stages, but by whether the cancer is localized, regional, or distant. According to the American Cancer Society, between 2011 and 2017 the five-year survival rate was 99% for patients with localized melanoma, 68% for patients with regional melanoma, and 30% for patients with distant melanoma.³ Overall, the five-year survival rate for patients was 93%.
From 2010 to 2019, age-adjusted rates for new melanoma cases in the United States increased an average of 1.2% each year.⁴ However, in that same period, age-adjusted death rates in melanoma fell an average of 3.2%.
How Does Immunotherapy Affect Survival?
Immunotherapy treatments are attributed to the steady decrease in death rates for melanoma. Oncologist Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, in speaking with Cure Today, claimed that in 2000 the average survival time for a patient with stage 4 melanoma was just seven months.⁵ However, he says that with the rise of immunotherapy options like immune checkpoint inhibitors, that figure has increased to six years.
Specific immunotherapy combinations may be able to produce longer survival in patients with melanoma. In 2021, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute released the findings of a trial examining the effects of a nivolumab and ipilimumab combination to treat metastatic melanoma.⁶ Of the trial participants who received the combination therapy, 49% were still alive after six and a half years, with 34% experiencing progression-free survival. The median survival for those who received combination therapy was 72.1 months.
1. Melanoma – symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/melanoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20374884. Updated June 18, 2022. Accessed July 26, 2022.
2. Melanoma treatment (PDQ®)– patient version. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/patient/melanoma-treatment-pdq. Updated September 3, 2021. Accessed July 26, 2022.
3. Melanoma survival rates | Melanoma survival statistics. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-rates-for-melanoma-skin-cancer-by-stage.html. Updated March 1, 2022. Accessed July 26, 2022.
4. Melanoma of the skin – skin cancer facts. National Cancer Institute. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/melan.html. Accessed July 26, 2022.
5. Benyon, B. In recent decades, immunotherapy extended advanced melanoma survival from months to years. Cure Today. https://www.curetoday.com/view/in-recent-decades-immunotherapy-extended-advanced-melanoma-survival-from-months-to-years. Published July 11, 2022. Accessed July 27, 2022.
6. Survival benefits of immunotherapy combination persist for more than six years in patients with advanced melanoma. Dana Farber Cancer Institute. https://www.dana-farber.org/newsroom/news-releases/2021/survival-benefits-of-immunotherapy-combination-persist-for-more-than-six-years-in-patients-with-advanced-melanoma/. Published May 27, 2021. Accessed July 27, 2022.