Because so much attention today focuses on suntanning risks (for good reason), you might not know that melanoma is most common among men over age 50, and that the average age of diagnosis is 61, putting older adults at increased risk for the skin cancer. While melanoma may be effectively treated when caught early, it is the most aggressive type of skin cancer and the sixth most common cancer overall.
If you're caring for someone who has been diagnosed with or may be at risk for metastatic melanoma, here are some basic facts and statistics you should know.
What Is Metastatic Melanoma?
Fact: Metastatic melanoma includes the latest stage (stage IV) of the disease, in which cancer cells have spread from the original tumor site on a person's skin to other parts of his or her body. For example, if the melanoma started out on the upper arm, it may have traveled to the lungs or liver.
How Many People Does It Affect?
Stat: While the numbers specifically related to metastatic melanoma diagnoses are hard to determine, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be more than 76,000 U.S. melanoma cases by the end of 2014, with an expected 9,700 deaths -- around one American every hour. That translates to at least 12 percent of cases reaching stage IV of the disease.
What Are the Risk Factors?
Fact: The biggest risk factor for metastatic melanoma is not catching it early, when the options for successful treatment are significantly greater. Risk factors for melanoma, in general, include:
- A weakened immune system
- Overexposure to ultraviolet rays (particularly blistering sunburns)
- Unusual skin moles or a large quantity of moles
- Fair skin
- Family history of melanoma
- Personal past history of any skin cancer
What Is the Typical Prognosis?
Stat: The five-year survival rate once metastatic melanoma is diagnosed is 15 to 20 percent, and the ten-year survival rate is 10 to 15 percent.
Fact: Cases are more serious when the cancer has spread to internal organs versus distant parts of the skin or distant lymph nodes. Age can affect survival rates -- with adults over 70 being most affected -- as can a weakened immune system. While African-Americans are at much lower risk for melanoma, their survival rates are shorter than those of whites. Still, older white men have the highest mortality rates.
Is It Treatable?
Fact: By stage IV, surgery to remove the melanoma is rarely an option for successful treatment, as the cancer has spread too far beyond the original skin location. However, there are drug and biologic therapies available. There are also palliative therapies to increase comfort and quality of life.
In addition to these facts and statistics, you can read more here about common questions you may have when caring for someone with metastatic melanoma.