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Can Melanoma Cancer Come Back?

If you have had melanoma, you may wonder if it can return. The answer, unfortunately, is yes — even if your treatment was successful. That’s why your doctor will want to monitor you closely; he or she may follow up with you every few months, especially in the first few years after your initial treatment.

Skin Cancer“Melanoma can recur at any stage,” says Ahmad Tarhini, MD, PhD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program. “It’s a serious disease but it’s one that we can cure if it’s caught in time.”

What are the chances of recurrence?
The chances of your melanoma coming back depend on its stage.

Those who have had melanoma are at greater risk for developing another melanoma. It can return in the same spot or elsewhere on your body, even 10 years after initial treatment.

Some cancer cells may remain inside your body that screening tests can’t detect. If these cells grow into a tumor, it’s known as a recurrence.

Doctors classify melanoma in one of four stages:

  • In Stages 1 and 2, it involves the skin only.

  • In Stage 3, it has spread from the skin to the lymph nodes.

  • In Stage 4, it has spread from the skin to other organs.

The likelihood of recurrence varies by stage. It is less likely to recur at lower stages, Dr. Tarhini says.

“The recurrence rate increases as the stage advances — even after successful surgery,” he says.

The stage also affects your prognosis. The lower the stage, the higher the likelihood is of curing your melanoma.

“At Stage 1, over 90 percent of patients can be cured,” says Dr. Tarhini. “As the stage progresses, the likelihood of cure is less. However, with recent advancements in immunotherapy and targeted therapy for melanoma, even at Stage 4 , we are very optimistic that we can cure many patients.”

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