Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, with more than 70,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
Now, research is showing those with stage one melanoma have a better survival rate when surgery happens sooner.
Brain Gastman, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic led the study. He said the key is to catch the cancer in its earliest stages.
“The largest percentage of patients that we see with melanoma are stage one patients,” he said. “It’s extremely important, because we’re catching it early, to take advantage of catching it early, because we now know, based on our data, this means treating those patients quickly.”
The study looked at records of melanoma patients using the National Cancer Database over an eight-year period.
Researchers found that for every 30 days that passed before a person with stage one melanoma had surgery, their risk of dying increased.
However, for patients with stages two and three melanoma, the increased risk was not the same.
Dr. Gastman said the difference in outcomes is likely due to the fact that patients with stage two or three melanomas have cancers that may have spread, making them more difficult to treat.
He said the research shows that not only is it important to remove cancerous tumors at an early stage, but also how important it is for individuals to know their personal risk factors for developing melanoma.
Those who have more than 50 moles, are fair skinned, have a family history of melanoma, or those with immunosuppression are at highest risk.
Dr. Gastman said the key to better overall survival rates is to find more melanomas while they are still in stage one, so that surgery can be performed before they have a chance to progress to stage two or greater.
“The patients who have melanomas that have progressed to stage two and three are the ones that ultimately become our higher risk patients – they’re the ones that we still need to find earlier and get rid of those delays,” he said.
Dr. Gastman said this research shows that it’s important for melanoma patients to be their own best advocate to prevent any delays in their treatment after diagnosis.
Complete results of the study can be found in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.