According to an article recently published in the Archives of Dermatology, when compared to other types of physicians, dermatologists tend to detect melanoma at an earlier stage. Earlier detection contributes to improved survival for patients diagnosed with this disease.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanoma typically begins in the form of a mole, and, at more advanced stages, can spread quickly to other parts of the body. Individuals, particularly those who are at a high risk of developing melanoma, are encouraged to visit a dermatologist for a skin exam. Despite this recommendation, however, many individuals have their primary healthcare perform a skin check-up for the detection of skin cancers rather than making a separate visit to a dermatologist.
Researchers from the U.S. recently analyzed data involving 2,020 individuals on Medicare who had been diagnosed with melanoma between 1991 and 1996. The researchers retrieved data from the files of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program database.
- Patients whose melanoma was diagnosed by a dermatologist had earlier-stage melanomas upon diagnosis compared to those detected by physicians other than dermatologists.
- Survival was improved at six months, two years, and five years among patients whose melanoma had been diagnosed by a dermatologist compared with patients whose cancer had been diagnosed by another type of physician.
The researchers conclude, “Earlier stage melanoma and improved survival are associated with detection by a dermatologist rather than by a nondermatologist. Increasing access to dermatologists, particularly for older patients, may represent one approach to improving melanoma-related health outcomes.” It is recommended that individuals undergo an initial skin screening with a dermatologist, who can then develop an appropriate screening schedule for early detection of melanoma or other skin cancers.
Reference: Pennie M, Soon S, Risser J, er al. Melanoma outcomes for medicare patients. Archives of Dermatology. 2007; 143:488-494.
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