Specialists More Likely to Spot Deadly Skin Cancer

Self-screening helps, but doctors better at finding early stage melanoma, study shows

MONDAY, July 18 (HealthDay News) -- Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, can be found by patients themselves, but new research reveals that self-detection is not as effective as screenings performed by doctors.

In the study, conducted by researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, the investigators found that in addition to higher rates of physician-detected melanomas, doctors also are more likely to detect thinner lesions, or cancers in the earliest stages.

Advanced-stage melanoma is often deadly. At the advanced-stage, the lesions tend to be thicker, growing down into the skin. The best way to increase patients' chances of survival is to find the cancer early when the lesions are thinner. In conducting the study, published in the July 18 online edition of the Archives of Dermatology, the researchers found that doctors are more effective than patients in doing just that.

The study authors reviewed a decade of patient records for 394 people treated by two specialists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering's pigmented lesions clinic. The patients were divided into two groups: new patients and established patients.

Out of a total 527 melanomas, physicians detected 82 percent of them in established patients and 63 percent in new patients. Moreover, among the established patients, lesions were typically thinner and more often detected in the very early stages. These lesions were also more commonly associated with a more favorable prognosis.

Meanwhile, the overall patient-detection rate was 18 percent, and most lesions found by patients were noticed following a change in appearance.

"Although we recognized that high-risk patients may have more frequent physician skin examinations and may be more vigilant in performing skin self-exam, we strongly believe that the [pigmented lesions clinic] setting contributes to earlier detection of melanoma in our cohort," Dr. Ivanka Kovalyshyn, of Sloan Kettering, and colleagues wrote in the report.

The researchers noted, however, that patients also play a critical role in the detection of melanoma. "It is crucial to emphasize that a combined strategy of physician detection and patient participation must continue to be implemented to ensure early melanoma diagnosis," the authors concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute provides more information on melanoma.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, news release, July 18, 2011

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