NEW YORK, Nov. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- Based on current estimates, 8,420 peopleare expected to die from melanoma this year. In an effort to reverse thissobering trend, dermatologists and the scientific community alike arecontinually developing new diagnostics, refining detection guidelines andproviding patients with the tools they need to properly examine their own skinfor signs of skin cancer.
Speaking today at the American Academy of Dermatology's skin academy(Academy), dermatologist Ellen S. Marmur, MD, FAAD, chief of the division ofdermatologic and cosmetic surgery at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in NewYork, presented the latest advances in diagnosing skin cancer and theAcademy's new detection strategies that emphasize the importance of patientinvolvement.
"There are some exciting innovations in diagnosing skin cancer that canhelp us detect skin cancer early, when it is most treatable," said Dr. Marmur."Even simple detection tools designed by the Academy that patients can use intheir own homes can save thousands of lives."
New Technologies for Diagnosing Skin Cancer
Dermatologists traditionally diagnose skin cancer by evaluating the skinusing a clinical examination and, if necessary, a magnifying device and thenbiopsying any suspicious lesions. Now, technological advances in computers,lasers and other polarizing light sources are providing dermatologists withtools to enhance the evaluation of suspicious lesions and, in some cases,decreasing the number of biopsies needed for an accurate diagnosis. The ideais to hone in on suspicious lesions earlier and with more specificity.
One of the newest technological developments in the fight against skincancer is the use of sophisticated imaging to scan and enhance certainfeatures of suspected lesions. Similar to how a computerized tomography (CT)scan highlights areas of the brain for abnormalities, imaging devices can nowwork on the skin to help detect cancerous tissue.
Another exciting technology dermatologists are using to evaluate suspectedskin cancers is a hand-held light device known as dermascopy that can look atthe pigment of the skin through specialized filters that magnify and polarizelesions. For example, similar to how filters are used on cameras to createcertain backgrounds, filters are used on this device to enhance certainfeatures of lesions -- such as brown or red background colors that couldindicate a melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer).
Dr. Marmur noted that one of the main benefits of dermascopy is theability to immediately evaluate a potential melanoma based on its magnifiedcharacteristics, which could help decrease the number of biopsies needed tomake an accurate diagnosis, or can push the physician to biopsy a borderlinelesion that appears more suspicious with the assistance of the dermatoscope.
In addition, newer computer systems are being used in conjunction withhand-held photography devices to more accurately diagnose melanomas. Forexample, the photo device takes a digital picture of the suspicious lesion,which is then magnified on the computer screen for closer examination. Thecomputer system also contains a database of characteristics of approximately100,000 evolving melanomas, which the lesions are then graded against to seeif certain features score high enough on the scale to warrant having a biopsy.
"With the improvement of early detection methods, we are finding anincreasing number of smaller skin cancers," said Dr. Marmur. "We know fromexperience that detecting skin cancer in its earliest stage means better curerates and survival rates. Prognosis plummets as the depth of melanomaincreases even by the smallest increment of one millimeter."
New Self-Exam Tools
Since skin cancer is the only cancer you can see on the surface of yourskin at its earliest stage, performing regular skin self-examinations is aneasy way to detect any suspicious spots that could be cancerous. To enhance apatient's ability to detect the warning signs of skin cancer, the Academy isrefining the ABCDs of melanoma detection by adding an "E." The letter "E"stands for Evolving -- a mole or skin lesion that looks different from therest or is changing in size, shape or color. This is in addition to otherqualities of moles for which individuals should check their skin -- Asymmetry(one half unlike the other half), Border (irregular, scalloped or poorlydefined), Color (varies from one area to another; shades of tan and brown,black; sometimes white, red or blue), and Diameter (the size of a pencileraser or larger). If a mole exhibits any of these characteristics, it shouldbe brought to a dermatologist's attention.
An analysis of 2001-2005 data from the Academy's National Melanoma/SkinCancer Screening Program supports the need for people to watch their moles forchanges. A study of the data published in the July 2007 issue of the Journalof the American Academy of Dermatology found those who indicated they had amole that changed recently in size, color or shape were two times more likelyto be diagnosed with a suspected melanoma.
"Some melanomas don't show any other abnormalities except that they areevolving over time," said Dr. Marmur. "It's not unusual for people to waituntil a melanoma has grown significantly to see a dermatologist, andunfortunately, that sometimes means the cancer has spread to other areas ofthe body. I am confident lives will be saved by encouraging people to bringtheir evolving moles to the attention of a dermatologist. And I have beenable to save lives purely because a partner or spouse has detected a changinglesion on someone who rushed in for a biopsy and curative surgery."
Dr. Marmur explained she sees numerous patients who say that they have hada mole forever, but that it recently started bleeding and then ultimatelyturns out to be a skin cancer. She added that a classic example of anevolving skin cancer is a man who notices a mole that begins bleeding while heis shaving. This can be a basal cell carcinoma, a squamous cell carcinoma or amelanoma. All three are serious and can be cured if caught early.
"Melanoma can be on the skin for a long time before it 'misbehaves' andgives patients a clue that it may be a lesion that needs to be addressed,"said Dr. Marmur. "We find that people who check their skin regularly --looking for the warning signs of skin cancer and taking note of any changes --are more likely to spot skin cancer in its earliest stages before it spreads."
The Academy's Body Mole Map is a tool individuals can use to track theirmoles. The map provides information on how to perform a skin exam, images ofthe ABCDEs of melanoma and space for people to track their moles to determineany changes over time. Free downloads of the Body Mole Map are available athttp://www.melanomamonday.org.
Dr. Marmur also encourages her patients to involve a family member orpartner in skin exams, which can help people thoroughly examine their skin inhard-to-reach spots and help them decide if a lesion seems to be evolving overtime. In her practice, Dr. Marmur estimates that patients report that theyare getting a suspicious mole checked at the urging of another person aboutfive times per week -- with men representing the largest group of referrals.
"My favorite example is of a daughter who had been trying to get hermother to come in to get a suspicious mole on her back checked, but the motherwas very reluctant because she didn't like going to the doctor," said Dr.Marmur. "Before the daughter went off to college, she asked her mom to makeher an appointment at my office to get a spot on her face checked that she wasconcerned about. When they arrived at my office, the daughter told her motherthat the appointment was really for her. The mole turned out to be amelanoma, and we were able to save the mother's life due to her daughter'splan to get her to my office."
Dr. Marmur's patient story supports recent research that shows involving apartner in the self-examination process can improve the early detection ofskin cancer. As such, the Academy is encouraging people to "Screen the OneYou Love." While candy and flowers are short-term gifts, the gift of a skinexamination is a gift of life and health. Popular holidays, such asValentine's Day (February 14), Mother's Day (May 10), Father's Day (June 21)and Grandparents Day (September 13) are reminders for people to check theirloved ones' skin for suspicious moles using the Academy's Body Mole Map.
"People sometimes get confused by what to look for on their skin, and thatcould result in them ignoring any potential red flags that might be startingto crop up," said Dr. Marmur. "So I always tell people to get to know theirskin and if something is bleeding or doesn't look right, then see adermatologist. Whether or not you have a partner available to assist you withyour skin self-exam, you should make skin self-exams part of your regularhealth regimen."
For more information about skin cancer, please visit the SkinCancerNetsection of http://www.skincarephysicians.com, a Web site developed bydermatologists that provides patients with up-to-date information on thetreatment and management of disorders of the skin, hair and nails.
Headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology(Academy), founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and mostrepresentative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of morethan 15,000 physicians worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing thediagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair andnails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and researchin dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime ofhealthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the Academy at1-888-462-DERM (3376) or http://www.aad.org.
Editor's Note: The Academy encourages editors to provide the Academy'sBody Mole Map from http://www.melanomamonday.org to their readers by eitherprinting the mole map or including a link to the mole map in an upcomingissue. For questions or assistance, please contact the Academy'sCommunications Department at (847) 330-0230.
SOURCE American Academy of Dermatology
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