Understanding the stages of

skin cancer

Once a diagnosis is received, “staging of skin cancer” is the next step.

The stages of skin cancer is based on the doctor's clinical findings, as well as from test results that may have been done, such as biopsy, blood work, x-ray, MRI or CT scans. Knowing the stage of the skin cancer helps the doctor to determine the appropriate treatment.

Stages of skin cancer range from Stage 0 being least invasive to Stage 4, which is the most invasive.

Staging is done differently for melanoma than for non-melanoma skin cancers, so we will discuss them separately.

Stages of Skin Cancer: Non-Melanoma

  • Stage 0: Abnormal cells are found in epidermis (top layer of the skin). These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage O can also be describes as Actinic Keratoses.
  • Stage 1: Cancer has formed and the tumor is 3/4 of and inch or smaller. It has not spread to the lymph nodes or any other organs. It may have made it through to some of the deeper layers of skin. It should still be easy to remove, but some scarring may occur. Cure rates are very high.

  • Stage 2: The tumor is larger than 3/4 of and inch wide and the tumor may have penetrated all three layers of the skin. It has not spread to the lymph nodes or any other organs. Cure rates are still high, but scarring will be visible.

  • Stage 3: The tumor has spread below the skin to nearby tissues, cartilage, muscle, or bone and/or to nearby lymph nodes, but not to other parts of the body. Treatments will vary and cure rates start to decease.

  • Stage 4: The tumor has spread to other places in the body, such as the brain,liver or lungs. Treatment options will vary and cure rates are poor.

According to the National Cancer Institute: www.cancer.gov

Stages of Melanoma

  • Stage 0: The melanoma cells are found only in the outer layer of skin cells, but have not invaded deeper tissues.

  • Stage I: The tumor is no more than 1 millimeter thick. The outer layer of skin may appear scraped. (This is called an ulceration). The melanoma cells have not spread to nearby lymph nodes.

  • Stage II: The tumor is between 2 and 4 millimeters thick. There may be ulceration. The melanoma cells have not spread to nearby lymph nodes.

  • Stage III: The melanoma cells have spread to one or more nearby lymph nodes. Or, the melanoma cells have spread to tissues just outside the original tumor but not to any lymph nodes.

  • Stage IV: The melanoma cells have spread to other organs, to lymph nodes, or to skin areas far away from the original tumor.

  • Recurrent: Recurrent disease means that the cancer has come back after it has been treated. It may have come back in the original site or in another part of the body.

Skin cancer death rates are low

5 Year survival rates: (According to the American Cancer Society)


* Basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads beyond stage II, so survival rate are close to 100%.

* Squamous cell carcinoma also has a very high survival rate, at about 96% when diagnosed below Stage II. However, this rate drops to 50% or less when diagnosed at Stage III or IV.


* Stage O-II has a survival rate of over 96%,

* Stage III is 60%, and,

* Stage IV is about 14%.

Over 80% of melanomas are diagnoses in the first three stages.

* African-Americans, Asians, and other races with naturally darker complexions have typically lower survival rates. That is because the disease is usually detected in the later stages.

These are very simplified definitions of the stages of skin cancer. It really is a very complicated topic. The American Cancer Society has the most detailed explanation of all the different stages of skin cancer on their web site.

Now you know about the stages of skin cancer, learn more about the treatment options.

Any information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure skin cancer. This site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace proper medical care. Always seek the advice of a trained health professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before seeking any treatment. Proper medical attention should always be sought for specific ailments. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking medical treatment due to information obtained on sun-protection-and-products-guide.com.

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