There’s good news for people at high risk for melanoma. A new study shows that getting a regular full skin examination at least every six months reduces the death rate from this common, but deadly, form of skin cancer. A twice yearly skin check done by a dermatologist has the potential to be lifesaving.
The Importance of Screening for Melanoma
When 1,108 people had full skin examinations every six months in a dermatologist’s office, there were no deaths from melanoma – or any other skin cancer. Why? Any melanomas that appeared were picked early – before spread of the cancer could occur. The results speak for themselves. Full skin examinations twice a year could drastically reduce the number of deaths from this serious form of skin cancer that’s on the rise in this country.
Why is Malignant Melanoma So Concerning?
Malignant melanoma is one of the only forms of skin cancer that can readily spread to other parts of the body – leading to a high mortality rate. Early detection is critical for successful treatment and long term survival. Certain people are at higher risk of melanoma due to family history. Other risk factors include a history of sunburns, pale skin or hair, a history of a prior cancer, and a history of a dysplastic (pre-cancerous) mole.
Full Skin Examinations: Why Seeing a Dermatologist is Best
What about doing a full skin examination at home to check for any moles or suspicious growths? Most experts believe a home skin examination isn’t as beneficial since most people aren’t don’t know what’s abnormal and often pick up cancerous skin lesions at a more advanced stage when it’s less treatable. Dermatologists can detect subtle, suspicious changes early on before a melanoma extends deeper into the tissue.
This doesn’t mean that home full skin examinations are useless, and shouldn’t be done. It means that people at high risk for melanoma should take the extra step of seeing a dermatologist twice a year for a focused screening for melanoma. People at low risk of melanoma can do regular skin checks and get a full skin examination on a yearly basis when they see their doctor for a physical.
Screening for Melanoma: The Bottom Line?
If you’re at high risk of melanoma skin cancer due to family history, a history of cancer of suspicious moles, or sun overexposure, talk to a dermatologist about scheduling a full skin screening every six months. It could save your life.
Family Practice News. May 1, 2010. page 26.