Friday, November 1, 2013

Comparing Survival Rates of Breast Cancer and Melanoma

I posted a recent commentary article written by someone else on my Facebook page that had a remarkable statement. “The survival rates for stage II melanoma are the same or worse than for stage III breast cancer.”  That got my attention, so I decided to dig in a little more.

A survival rate tells you what percentage of people will survive a certain type of cancer after a specified number of years.  In most cases, the survival rate is measured for 5 years.  For instance, a survival rate of 80% means that 80% of the people with that cancer survived, or were alive, after 5 years.  Conversely, 20% of the people died.  This is calculated based on the study of hundreds or thousands of people who have been diagnosed with the various cancers.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, “surviving” may not mean you’re cancer free or not undergoing treatment.

As I see it, the survival rate of a cancer dictates just how deadly that cancer can be.  However, a cancer with a low survival rate might not be the more widespread killer.  As stated in the original quote, melanoma has a lower survival rate than breast cancer, but statistics also show that there are about 5 times more cases of breast cancer per year than melanoma cases.  Breast cancer is a grenade which affects many while melanoma is a stone cold assassin which targets a few with greater efficiency.

How do the different cancers compare?  I checked into the American Cancer Society’s website and found the survival rates for each stage for both breast cancer (obtained from the 2013 National Cancer Institute’s SEER database) and melanoma (obtained from the 2008 AJCC Melanoma Staging Database):

Breast Cancer
Survivor Rate
Survivor Rate
Not reported
15% to 20%

As you can see, there are indeed levels of Stage II melanoma which have a lower survival rate than Stage III Breast Cancer!

So what does this say?  It implies that breast cancer research has been very successful in recent years, thus increasing the overall survival rates.  In fact, according to the American Cancer Society’s “2013 Cancer Facts & Figures” report, breast cancer has an overall (all stages together) average survival rate of 89%.  Melanoma’s overall survival rate is 91%.

Hmm... that is interesting.  Is research responsible for melanoma’s higher overall survival rate?  Most likely not.  These figures were taken in 2008…before incredible medical advances such as Yervoy and Ipi.  Melanoma has always had a high OVERALL survival rate because so many more people catch melanoma in the earliest stages as opposed to many other cancers.  Why?  Because we can see it on the skin!  While this seems like great information, it hasn’t been the best news for melanoma researchers.  After all, if a cancer has such a high survival rate, why pour money into researching a cure when other cancers need more desperate help?  I’m sure this has been the challenging argument for melanoma researchers for years.

It’s important for those donating money to understand the nature of advance stage cancers.  Stage II breast cancer has a 93% survival rate.  Stage IIC melanoma has a 53% survival rate!  That’s an alarming difference!  This gap can only be filled with additional research.

To me, this set of data tells demonstrates two things.  First, as I said before, advanced melanoma is a stone cold killer.  But secondly, and more importantly, melanoma can be defeated if detected early.  There have been great things happening to further successful melanoma treatments, but so much more needs to be done.  The greatest weapon against this assassin is you!  Get your skin checked annually by a dermatologist and check your own skin monthly.

Post script:

As I reviewed the data found in the American Cancer Society report, “Cancer Facts & Figures 2013,” I noticed the survival rates of other cancers.  In particular cancers of the lung and pancreas have remarkably low overall survival rates.  Compared to melanoma at 91%, lung cancer comes in at only 16% and pancreatic cancer at 6%.  Stage IV rates for each respectively are 4% and 2%.  More people will die of lung cancer this year than any other cancer.  Cancer of the pancreas is statistically the deadliest of all cancers.

November is the awareness month for both Lung Cancer and Pancreatic Cancer.  The pink ribbons and football cleats have been put away now that October is over.  No one will likely be wearing white (lung) or purple (pancreas) in November…at least not for awareness.

Please continue your support for melanoma awareness and research, but take some time this month to lend your heart and hand to pancreatic cancer and lung cancer…the latter which took my mom’s life in 2005.


  1. I have seen fantastic blogs and I have seen not so fantastic blogs. This blog is very informative in many ways and certainloy ranks in the former category. Really appreciate the information your providing use avid readers!

  2. This is really fascinating. I want to know more about this now. Thanks for sharing!

  3. very informative information. I have survived melanoma and am
    very grateful. I just wish the other cancers had as much publicity as does breast cancer.