Cutaneous malignant melanoma has been characterized by rapid and steady increases in incidence and mortality in white populations. Some reports mentioned declining trends in the mean thickness of these tumours, but other studies suggested a stable incidence of thick melanomas. The aim of this study was to describe the stage distribution of melanomas across Europe, with particular reference to temporal trends. Twenty-three cancer registries provided data sets containing information on stage and histology, 21 of which were used for a general description and nine for trends analyses. Despite a preponderance of missing data, interesting patterns emerged: a less favourable stage distribution in populations with relatively low incidence, but high case-fatality rates, and a favourable trend in stage and histology distribution over time, including a shift from later to earlier stages in recent years. Early detection campaigns raising awareness for thin lesions can potentially improve melanoma survival rates. Monitoring of stage-specific trends in melanoma incidence can assess the impact of such interventions. This paper demonstrates the potential utility of high-quality, timely cancer registry data in pursuing such public health objectives and addresses the need for more complete information on diagnostic features of melanoma patients. This will allow more informative evaluations of preventive strategies.