Melanoma is by far the most serious form of skin cancer. For all stages of melanoma combined, five-year survival has increased from 82 percent in the late 1970s to 93 percent in recent years.
Melanoma research has been a pioneer in immunotherapy, using drugs to trigger the body's immune defenses to fight melanoma tumors. In 2010, researchers showed for the first time that a drug targeting the immune system can improve survival among people with advanced melanoma. The following year, a second drug targeting a genetic abnormality in some melanomas achieved a similar result. While investigators continue to study why these treatments don't work in all patients, or yet cure the disease, they signal that progress against melanoma is gaining speed and that therapy will become increasingly personalized in the years ahead.