While the summer months often serve as an important reminder on the dangers of sun exposure, many people may not realize that skin cancer can happen to anyone at any time of the year. With more than five million new cases diagnosed each year, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
There are many different types of skin cancer, and while the majority can be relatively slow growing, melanoma, the faster growing cancer, is an exception to this rule. For every 30 days that early stage melanoma treatment is delayed, there is a negative impact on overall survival.
May is Melanoma Awareness Month, a great time to learn about advances in skin cancer detection and the proactive measures everyone can take throughout the year to monitor for and prevent skin cancer.
Advances in skin cancer detection — no scalpel needed:
For decades, biopsies have been the standard way to test growing skin spots or suspicious moles for melanoma, but using a scalpel to remove a portion of the mole is not always necessary, can be painful, and can leave scarring behind. What’s more, of the 4.5 million biopsies performed annually, only around 180,000 cases of melanoma are detected, or 1 melanoma for every 25 biopsies.
Today, however, advances in science and the precision of genomics enable melanoma to be detected at the earliest stages without a biopsy using a non-invasive adhesive patch test. This adhesive patch test, made by DermTech, collects skin cells from the surface of an entire lesion without a biopsy and reduces the chance of missing a melanoma to less than 1%, where a biopsy has as high as a 17% chance of missing a melanoma.
“Being able to rule out melanoma without a biopsy is an option every patient should know about,” said Nora, a melanoma survivor. “Having this testing option can mean greater peace of mind and help eliminate unnecessary watching, waiting, worrying and even scarring.”
“It is critical to catch and treat melanoma early for the best chance of survival. Having this adhesive patch test offers a way to effectively rule out melanoma and objectively assess a suspicious lesion in a non-invasive manner,” said Dr. Julie Karen, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City who specializes in skin cancer and laser surgery. “This test is also a critical tool that can be extraordinarily helpful when practicing dermatology via telemedicine, as a doctor can order the test to be sent to the patient’s home to be administered by the patient under their doctor’s supervision, and results are achieved within a few days after test completion.”
How to spot skin cancer early (hint: check often):
Dr. Karen shared that, “The good news is, there are a few simple steps people can take to be vigilant about finding melanoma in its early stages. I stress each of these key actions with all of my patients, but everyone can and should implement these as part of their regular health habits, because melanoma won’t wait.”
“When I saw a new spot on my shoulder during a self-exam, I called my physician immediately and it was diagnosed as melanoma. I encourage everyone to know their skin, check it often and advocate for yourself if something doesn’t look right,” added Nora.
1. Perform regular self-exams and note observations
Performing regular skin self-exams allows a person to more easily spot new growths or abnormal changes in existing moles and freckles. It is best to write down notes on changes you observe and take photos to keep track of changes or concerning areas. Any spot, new or old, that is changing in appearance or symptoms or stands out should be immediately brought to the attention of a physician.
2. Remember your ABCs as you assess your moles
If you’re trying to determine when to see a dermatologist about one of your moles, let the rules of ABCDE guide you.
• Asymmetrical: One half is different than the other.
• Border: Irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.
• Color: Varied tones from one area to another. May include shades of tan, brown, black, white, red or blue.
• Diameter: Melanomas are typically 6 millimeters or larger.
• Evolving: A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.
3. Visit a dermatologist every year
A visit to the dermatologist for a full-body skin check is recommended on an annual basis even for completely healthy individuals who have no history of skin cancer. However, if you find something suspicious during your self-exam, don’t wait for your annual visit.
Finally, Dr. Karen stresses that, “If an in-person visit isn’t possible, virtual telehealth visits are always, without question, a better option than delaying a visit with your dermatologist, especially if you have a concerning lesion or skin spot.”
For more information on the importance of early melanoma detection, visit: dermtech.com/early-melanoma-detection.