Skin Examinations Remain Standard of Care for Early Diagnosis of Melanoma

Regular skin examinations remain the standard of care for the early detection and prevention of melanoma. These results were recently presented at the 2008 annual American Academy of Dermatology meeting.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that typically arises from a mole. If detected and treated early, prior to its spread to deeper layers of the skin or to distant sites in the body, melanoma is highly curable with surgical removal. However, once the cancer has spread, melanoma remains one of the most deadly of all cancers.

Fortunately, skin examinations, in which the surface of the skin on the entire body is examined by a dermatologist, can prevent the development of melanoma through removal of moles that may have the potential of turning cancerous or through the removal of melanoma in its earliest stages. Regular skin examinations remain the gold standard for screening for melanoma; however, evidence linking regular skin examinations to improved survival has been indirect and therefore inconclusive.

Recently, a national registry for skin screening has been established by the American Cancer Society to provide evidence that screening for skin cancer, particularly in individuals who are at a high-risk for developing melanoma, will decrease the risk of death in these patients. This large-scale campaign is hoped to ultimately provide the direct evidence needed to definitively determine that regular skin examinations improve survival in regards to melanoma.

The National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Screening Program has made progress in identifying patients who are at a high risk of developing melanoma. Patients at a high risk of melanoma have a family history of the disease, more than 40 moles on their body, history of severe sunburn (particularly during childhood), or have several atypical moles. Patients with four or five risk factors have the highest risk of being diagnosed with melanoma; however, these patients are often the least likely to have annual skin examinations, which is why public awareness about the importance of screening is so critical.

Individuals are encouraged to speak with their healthcare provider regarding an initial skin screening as well as follow-up screening for skin cancer.

Reference: Carucci J, et al. Proceedings from the 2008 annual American Academy of Dermatology meeting. February 2008.

Related News: May Is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month (04/28/2008)

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