If you look at current statistics, about 8400 people will die of melanoma skin cancer this year. Melanoma is an aggressive skin cancer and can metastize quickly to other areas in the body. So any tools that help to detect this cancer quickly - by patients or by health professionals - can be a step forward in reducing the mortality from this disease.
Recently at an American Academy of Dermatology symposium, new and innovative approaches to early detection were presented.
(1) Thanks to lasers, polarizing light sources and advances in computer technology - doctors can now evaluate a suspicious lesion quickly, and many times in a non-invasive way (without a biopsy which sometimes needs to be scheduled and that means "lost time in diagnosis).
(2) A hand held light now allows for "dermascopy" - a technique that looks at the lesion pigment and magnifies and polarizes the light for better evaluation.
(3) Sophisticated imaging scans, similar to CT scans, can also now be used to evaluate a suspicious skin lesion
(4) Computer photo devices take a hand-held digital picture of a lesion, and magnify it on the computer screen for better examination. The computer also contains a database of thousands of images, so a comparison with an already diagnosed lesion can be done, for further evaluation and diagnosis.
The bottom line? Smaller lesions are being found and evaluated and typically if it's smaller, you are catching the melanoma earlier and earlier detection means better cure rate and an extended life possibility for the patient.
Now patients themselves are also being taught the ABCDE of personal skin exam, specially when they have freckles, moles and other skin iregularities present. What does the alphabet mean?
So anything that has assymetry with unclear borders or a changing color or a large diameter or seems to be in the process of growing or changing - or even if the lesion has just one of these worrisome characteristics - it should be further evaluated by a dermatologist.
Also - if a mole begins to bleed - that would be a reason to see a dermatologist quickly.
Finally, ask a family member to check the areas you can't see easily like your back, bottom of the feet, neck - between yearly dermatology "head to toe" checks. Never ignore - red flags - the changes we mentioned above. The life you save could be ....your own!!
Published On: December 15, 2008