July 21st, 2011

Physician-Based Skin Cancer Screening Detects Thinner Melanomas


Compared with melanomas detected by patients themselves, melanomas detected through physician-based screening tend to be thinner and to have better prognostic features. These results were published in the Archives of Dermatology.

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, with more than one million new diagnoses each year. The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma is a less common form of skin cancer but tends to be more aggressive. Each year in the United States there are roughly 68,000 new diagnoses of melanoma and 8,700 deaths from the disease.

As with many types of cancer, early detection of skin cancer contributes to better treatment outcomes. Paying attention to changes in your skin, and bringing these changes to the attention of a physician, can help detect skin cancer at an early stage. Having regular skin exams by a dermatologist or other healthcare provider can also provide important benefits, and may allow for more complete or earlier-stage cancer detection.

To explore method of melanoma detection and melanoma characteristics, researchers collected information about patients who visited a pigmented lesion clinic at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. For this analysis, patients were classified as either “established patients” (those who had received professional services at the clinic for at least three months; services included a total body skin exam at each visit) and “new patients” (patients who were new to the clinic).

A total of 527 melanomas were identified in 394 patients.

  • Melanomas among the established patients were more likely to have been detected by a physician than melanomas among the new patients (82% among established patients versus 63% among new patients).
  • Melanomas detected in established patients tended to be thinner, were more likely to be detected at an in situ (noninvasive) stage, and were less likely to have negative prognostic characteristics.

The results indicate that both patients and physicians contribute to melanoma detection. Physician-based screening, however, appears better able to detect melanoma at an early stage. This may be particularly true when the physicians are skin cancer specialists.

Reference: Kovalyshyn I, Dusza SW, Siamas K et al. The impact of physician screening on melanoma detection. Archives of Dermatology. Early online publication July 18, 2011.

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Tags: Melanoma, News, Screening/Prevention Melanoma, Uncategorized