08/28/2009 - Articles

Early melanoma is usually detected by the doctor, not patient

By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD


Melanoma is the most deadly of the skin cancers and the earlier it is detected the better.  People may be aware of the need to check suspicious moles for early signs of melanoma.  But a new study suggests that it is the dermatologist, not the patient, who is better at picking up the first signs of melanoma. This raises the issue of introducing whole body screening for melanoma.

Researchers at North Florida Dermatology Associates analyzed 126 cases of melanoma that had been diagnosed in their practice.  Of these, 51 were invasive and the rest were ‘in situ’ – which means they were thinner and confined to the outer layer of the skin.  They found that 53.6% of all melanomas and 60% of the in situ melanomas had been detected by the dermatologist, rather than the patient.  Indeed, melanoma was not even the reason why the patient had presented at the clinic in many cases. Dermatologists were more likely to detect early stage melanoma, whereas patients were more likely to detect it at a later stage.  In other words, the dermatologist’s eyes are sharper, when it comes to detecting this deadly skin cancer.

The study suggests that there could be a case for screening for melanoma by full body skin examination, particularly for those who are at higher risk (fair skin, red hair, for instance). Of course, self-examination for melanoma, looking for changes in existing moles, is very important still.  But there may now be a role for increased input from the dermatologist in the prevention of melanoma.



Kantor J and Kantor D Routine dermatologist-performed full-body skin examination and early melanoma skin detection Archives of Dermatology August 2009;145:873-876

Created on: 08/28/2009
Reviewed on: 08/28/2009

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Anonymous wrote 1 year 38 weeks ago

Lost a brother to melanoma. This is excellent advice