Importance of early detection of melanoma

melanoma detectionAs Britain basks in the hottest summer since 1976, the warnings are being issued about how to stay safe in the sun. Experts are recommending we stay out of the sun between 11am and 3pm, wear a sun hat and cover up with sunscreen.

This all sounds sensible enough, but there is something else we should be doing as well, and that is ensuring we know the size, shape and positions of moles on our bodies, and keeping a close eye out for changes.

According to research published recently by the Cleveland Clinic in the US, timing is critical when it comes to identifying and removing melanoma from the skin, and those who acted fast were significantly more likely to survive than those who did not.

With access to the US National Cancer Database, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic studied over 150,000 confirmed cases of melanoma and correlated the outcomes with the speed of medical intervention. They found that “overall survival decreased in patients waiting longer than 90 days for surgical treatment, regardless of stage. In addition, the delay of surgery beyond the first 29 days negatively impacted overall survival for stage I melanoma, though not for stage II or III.”

Although treating cancer fast to ensure the best possible chance of survival is not new news, the speed that melanoma can take effect if left untreated was shocking.

Knowing what to look for

An easy checklist of what to look for in a suspected melanoma is the ‘ABCDE’ rule:

  • ASYMMETRY: Has the mole changed to look like a more irregular, unmatched shape?
  • BORDER: Has your mole developed an irregular, scalloped or wiggly border?
  • COLOUR: Has it changed colour or started having patches of different colours?
  • DIAMETER: Has it grown? Melanomas usually exceed 6 mm in diameter when diagnosed (although this is not always the case)
  • EVOLVING: Have you noticed that one of your moles looks very different from other moles on your body? Does it no longer ‘match’?

What to do if you are worried about skin changes?

If you have a mole that you are concerned about, book an appointment to see a skin surgery specialist to talk through your options. The mole will need to be tested to identify whether or not it is dangerous, and then you can look at different options for having it removed.

If your mole is dangerous then skin cancer surgery is often the recommended course of action, typically this will involve direct excision (whereby the mole is cut out from the skin) leaving a small linear scar in its wake. These tend to heal very quickly afterwards and fade quickly. If it is benign there are other options that can be considered, such as shave excisions, which are less invasive.