A new study performed at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York suggests that melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, can be found by patients themselves, but that self-detection is not as effective as screenings performed by doctors.
A research team 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% of them in established patients and 63% in new patients. Equally important, among the established patients, lesions were typically thinner and more often detected in the very early stages. These lesions were also more
associated with a favorable long-term prognosis.
So how did patients fare with their self-exams? According to study results, the overall patient-detection rate was a meager 18%. Most lesions found by patients were noticed following a change in appearance.
The problem with this detection rate is the potential seriousness of melanoma. Advanced-stage skin cancer is often deadly. At this stage of progression, lesions tend to be thicker, growing down into the skin. The best way to increase someone’s chances of survival is to find the cancer early when the lesions are thinner — which is exactly the point the researchers have made in this latest study. It would be wise to heed their advice that doctors are more effective than patients in finding skin cancer.
However — and this is a big “however” — it is not the intention of this health e-letter to say that you can’t also play a critical role in the detection of melanoma. The best health advice is to take a combined approach in which there is both physician detection and patient participation to ensure early detection. Keep monitoring your skin periodically, wear sunscreen, and visit your doctor for regular check-ups.