Recurrence of melanoma 10 or more years after initial treatment is more common than previously thought, occurring in more than one in 20 patients. However, according to a new study, these patients tend to live longer after their cancer returns than patients whose melanoma recurs in the first 3 years, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

‘For patients with melanoma, survival beyond 10 years without a recurrence has been considered nearly synonymous with a cure,’ said principal investigator Mark Faries, Professor of Surgery at the John Wayne Cancer Institute, Santa Monica, CA. ‘However, most studies do not follow-up patients longer than 10 years. Our study found that late melanoma recurrence is not rare and that it occurs more frequently in certain patient groups.’

According to the study, patients with a higher chance of melanoma  recurring more than a decade later, compared with early recurrence of melanoma within the first 3 years, were typically a younger age at initial diagnosis and generally exhibited less serious characteristics of the original tumour.

Dr Faries said the study represents the largest reported group of melanoma patients with a first recurrence at least one decade later. Of 4731 patients who were diagnosed with skin melanoma at their medical centre and received long-term follow-up, 408 patients experienced a late melanoma recurrence after being disease-free for 10 years or more.

Although the investigators found that late-recurring melanomas were more likely to develop in a site distant from the original, this group had a better post-recurrence survival rate. Compared with patients whose cancer returned within 3 years, patients with a late recurrence were 40% less likely to die of melanoma than those with an early recurrence. Overall survival was also better in the late-recurrence group.