Study highlights impact of early detection on skin cancer survival

Skin cancer survivors know firsthand that the disease is most treatable when detected early, so they're more likely to be vigilant about skin exams —and new research shows that such vigilance pays off.

After studying more than 900 cases of melanoma reported through the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, researchers found that men with a history of nonmelanoma skin cancer were less likely to die of melanoma than those without an NMSC history. The research, led by Jiali Han, PhD, a professor and chair of epidemiology at the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health in Indianapolis, was published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

"Our results highlight the impact of early detection on skin cancer survival," says board-certified dermatologist Steven T. Chen, MD, MPH, FAAD, an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School in Boston and a co-author of the JAAD study. "Because people who have been diagnosed with skin cancer are more likely to see a dermatologist for regular skin exams, any future skin cancers they may develop are more likely to be caught early, when they're most treatable."

"Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, killing one person every hour, so it's great that NMSC survivors understand the importance of early detection," says board-certified dermatologist Suzanne M. Olbricht, MD, FAAD, president of the American Academy of Dermatology. "However, regular skin self-exams are a habit that everyone, regardless of medical history, should adopt. While the five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 99 percent, the five-year survival rates for regional and distant stage melanomas are only 63 percent and 20 percent, respectively."

In conjunction with Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May, the AAD has released a new public service advertisement, "Caught It," which encourages men over 50 to be aware of changes on their skin so they can detect skin cancer early, when it's most treatable. The humorous spot depicts various men telling the camera about the situations in which they "caught it," culminating with one whose dermatologist reveals that the men have been talking about skin cancer.

"Men over 50 have an increased risk of developing melanoma, so we hope this PSA reminds them to keep a close eye on their skin," Dr. Olbricht says. "Furthermore, we encourage everyone, regardless of age, race or gender, to perform regular skin self-exams and see a board-certified dermatologist if they notice any new or suspicious spots, or any spots that are changing, itching or bleeding."

During Skin Cancer Awareness Month, the AAD is recognizing "Skin Cancer Heroes" -; patients and survivors, the friends and loved ones who have helped and supported them, and the board-certified dermatologists who have detected and treated their skin cancer. The AAD encourages everyone to be their own Skin Cancer Hero by taking action to detect the disease in its early, most treatable stages.

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