Many melanoma patients see a doctor when it’s too late

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, but if caught early, it’s highly treatable. Unfortunately, many studies find that patients are often diagnosed too late. Once cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, organs or bones, chances of survival drop significantly. That’s why early detection is key.

“When it hasn’t left the upper surface of the skin, melanoma is 100 percent survivable,” said Stephen W. Dusza, a research epidemiologist who participated in a study on early detection published in the Archives of Dermatology and cited in an interview with NJ.com.

More awareness needed

Women were found to be 7 percent more likely to have tumors picked up in stages one or two than men, particularly lung and skin cancer, according to a study by Cambridge researchers published in the Annals of Oncology. Older individuals also had a lower chance of melanomas being detected early. This points to the role awareness and education play in early cancer detection. Educating people on the warning signs of skin cancer and the necessity of regular self-skin checks greatly decreases risk.

Self-checks result in earlier detection

The Skin Cancer Foundation cites a study carried out in Queensland, Australia that showed “that for patients performing self-skin examinations (SSE), melanomas had a more favorable depth distribution (i.e., thinner tumors) than melanomas detected incidentally. Another study showed that SSE performers are generally diagnosed with thinner melanomas than nonperformers (0.77 mm vs. 0.95 mm). Finally, SSE and the corresponding earlier detection of thinner melanomas have been reported to reduce mortality by as much as 63 percent.”

The takeaway is that awareness saves lives. However, patients should be careful not to overestimate their abilities of detection either as melanomas are more likely to be detected by a doctor who is better able to pick up on subtle changes in a mole or skin spot. That’s why, when used together, self-skin checks and regular doctor visits are a very effective combination for catching skin cancer early.

Awareness starts with information

To catch a malignancy early, you should:

  • Perform regular, thorough self-skin checks. The Skin Cancer Foundation offers a handy guide.
  • Go to a doctor or dermatologist regularly to have your skin checked out by a professional. Also, be sure to visit a doctor if you ever have any worry or suspicion about a mole or skin spot.
  • Know your risk level by understanding your skin type (i.e. Incidence increases for those with fair skin that freckles and burns easily, individuals with red, blonde or light brown hair and people of Celtic descent).
  • And of course, to decrease the risk of skin cancer in the first place, take the proper precautions and practice sun safety by wearing protective clothing, staying out of the sun during the peak sun hours of 11 am to 4 pm, applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher every two hours and after sweating or getting wet and seeking shade whenever possible.

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