The Risk of Recurrence
When melanoma comes back after it has been treated, it is called a recurrence. Recurrent melanoma may appear locally (at or near the site of the original tumor) or in another part of the body.
The probability that melanoma will recur after appropriate treatment is characterized as low-risk, intermediate-risk, or high-risk.
- Low-risk: less than 20% risk of recurrence
- Intermediate-risk: 20% to 50% risk of recurrence
- High-risk: greater than 50% risk of recurrence. High-risk melanoma has a high probability of having already spread to local or distant sites at the time of treatment.
The risk of recurrence of your primary melanoma increases with:
The thickness of the primary tumor, with thicker tumors carrying greater risk than thin tumors
The presence of ulceration in the primary tumor
The presence of satellite metastases surrounding the primary tumor
Developing A Second Melanoma
If you have had melanoma in the past, you are at increased risk for developing a new primary melanoma. A significant number of patients with a past history of melanoma develop a second primary tumor after a period of time.
- A study reviewing the data of 3310 patients with Stage I and Stage II melanoma revealed a 2.8% risk of developing a second melanoma after five years and a 3.6% risk after 10 years. (1)
Screening for melanoma recurrence through skin self-examination and regular medical skin examination is of the utmost importance.
Prognosis for a Second Melanoma
The appearance of a second melanoma does not necessarily carry a poor prognosis, particularly when the recurrence is local and found in an early stage. Research supports the benefits of close physician follow-up and patient education in the early detection of second melanomas.
In one study, the thickness of a second primary melanoma was compared with that of the initial primary tumor. In almost 50% of cases, the second melanoma was significantly thinner than the initial melanoma. (2) This may be due to earlier diagnosis of the secondary primary melanoma.
Second melanomas can be treated with simple tumor surgery just like a new primary melanoma and carry an encouraging prognosis for long-term survival.
1. DiFronzo LA, Wanek LA, Elashoff R, Morton DL. Increased Incidence of Second Primary Melanoma in Patients with a Previous Cutaneous Melanoma. Ann Surg Oncol. 1999;6:705-711.
2. DiFronzo LA, Wanek LA, Morton DL. Earlier Diagnosis of Second Primary Melanoma Confirms the Benefits of Patient Education and Routine Postoperative Follow-Up. Cancer. 2001;91:1520-1524.
Recurrence: when a primary melanoma comes back after it has been treated.
A significant number of patients with a past history of melanoma develop a second primary tumor after a period of time.