Detecting Melanoma

Full-body skin examinations performed by doctors and patients can effectively detect early forms of melanoma, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Florence.

Researchers studied more than 800 patients who were either diagnosed with melanoma or at risk for developing the cancer. They studied the patients’ patterns of detection and other demographic factors.

Results of the study show most patients detect their own melanoma. Spouses spotted about 13 percent of lesions, but gender played a role in the detection process. Women are more likely than men to identify cancerous lesions on their spouses.

Physicians detected about 38 percent of melanoma cases. Researchers found that only detection by a doctor was associated with a better chance of early diagnosis. Authors of the study suggest patients should ask their dermatologists to perform a full-body skin examination, even if they don’t have any suspicious spots.

Nearly 70 percent of the patients waited no longer than three months before having their lesions diagnosed. The most common reasons for this delay were fear, lack of time, and getting the wrong opinion from a doctor. Fifty-two of the patients waited more than three months because their doctors did not think their lesions were cancerous.

Researchers found demographic factors also affected the way patients were diagnosed. Women were more likely to have their melanoma diagnosed early. Having a higher education level, living in the northern or central part of the country, and performing self-skin examinations were also associated with early diagnosis.

SOURCE: Archives of Dermatology, 2003;139:607-612

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