At risk for melanoma? Get checked annually, UCLA cancer expert says

As rates of skin cancer, or melanoma, rise for men and women in the United States, health experts are debating the effectiveness of annual total body examinations in helping to detect the disease in its earlier stages, since skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Routine full body exams for skin cancer are not usually part of the annual physical exams performed by primary care providers and non-dermatology specialists. Last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel on preventive and primary care, concluded that there is insufficient evidence to recommend routine full body skin examinations for adult patients.  However, a group of dermatologists and oncologists published an article in the March issue of the journal Future Medicine asking the preventive task force to revise its stance on full body skin inspections. In the journal article, the authors disagreed with the task force’s findings and the physicians who authored the article stated that routine body screening of “high risk” individuals could help reduce skin cancer deaths.

“With more and more of the U.S. population reaching 70, 80, and 90-years-old, the development of skin cancers is going to continue to rise,” said Dr. Philip Scumpia, a dermatologist and dermatopathologist at UCLA Health and member of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “I believe that at the very least, recommendations should be amended to include full body skin exams for patients in high-risk groups and the aging medicare population.”

High-risk populations include the following: those with autoimmune conditions and patients that have underwent an organ transplant and were prescribed immunosuppressive medications. Individuals diagnosed with certain types of leukemia that have a first-degree relative with melanoma and many moles.  Finally, those who have had significant sun exposure (five or more sunburns) and people that have frequently used tanning beds.

Scumpia specializes in melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and inflammatory skin diseases. His research also focuses on how the immune system protects against the development of skin cancers and why patients with dysfunctional immune systems develop more skin cancers.

“Full body skin exams by trained dermatologists can lead to earlier diagnosis of melanoma and non melanoma skin cancers, particularly in high risk individuals, and early diagnosis is associated with improved patient outcomes in all types of cancers.” Scumpia said.

Some of the symptoms of melanoma that people should watch for include a new or unusual growth on the body or a change in an existing mole.

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