Regular Doctor Visits Are Key to Melanoma Defense

Doctors are more likely to find malignant skin cancer at an early, treatable stage than is the patient's spouse, friend or the patient himself, a recent study showed, indicating that visiting the doctor regularly is a wise health precaution.


Less than a third of melanomas, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are found by physicians – who tend to find them when they are thin (less than 2 millimeters thick) and easier to treat.     The study, which appeared in the journal Archives of Dermatology, surveyed 227 men 40 and above who had been diagnosed with melanoma between 2004 and 2006. They answered questions about melanoma detection and awareness within three months of diagnosis.

The survey discovered that middle-aged men are especially prone to putting off seeing a doctor to have suspicious moles examined.  This fact may help explain why the melanoma death rate is gradually increasing among middle-aged and older men and decreasing among women of the same age. White men 50 and older comprise nearly 50 percent of all melanoma deaths in the United States.

“A growing body of sex-specific studies shows a trend among men, especially white middle-class men, of delaying seeking help when they become ill,” write June Robinson, of Northwestern University, and colleagues in an editorial that accompanies the study. “By delaying seeking care, men present at a later stage of melanoma, when it is no longer treatable.”

The scientists found that, of those men who were diagnosed, 25 percent had melanomas thicker than 2 mm. The men with thinner melanomas tended to have had their condition discovered by a doctor, to have had previous knowledge of melanoma, or to have earned a high school education. Less than 20 percent of men knew about melanoma warning signs.
   
“Public education, in particular targeting less-educated, middle-aged, and older men for improved self-examination and physician skin surveillance, should become an integral component of skin cancer risk reduction strategies promoted by cancer advocacy organizations,” write researcher Susan M. Swetter, of Stanford University Medical Center, and colleagues.


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