Skin Exams Catching Melanoma Earlier: April 22, 2013

“Well, I have light skin, I was foolish out in the sun for many, many years,” says James Haggerty.

After several go-rounds with cancer, Haggerty is protective of his skin, both in the sun and at his doctor’s office.

“I use to see him once a year, but I now see them four times a year. Simply because I've had several skin cancers,” says Haggerty.

Studies show diligence pays off, in particular when it comes to melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer.  Patients who had at least one skin exam were 37% less likely to have invasive disease if diagnosed with melanoma. A professional exam should be performed during an annual checkup.

“You should get into a gown and the physician or nurse practitioner should be examining you in a gown so they can look at your skin look for melanomas. Skin cancer is actually the most common cancer and a lot of people really don’t realize that. So you need that to be a part of your exam,” says Dr. Sal Lacagnina, health and wellness with Lee Memorial Health System.

Something as fundamental as looking for skin cancer is substantial in terms of survivability. In patients who had a skin exam in the last year, 64% of melanomas were Stage 0, meaning purely superficial, as compared to 46% of patients who had not undergone a skin exam.

“Part of the examination should be a head to toe skin exam, including looking at your scalp, looking in between your fingers, in between the toes. I’ve had patients develop melanomas under the nail, behind the eye in the retina. So you know, you really need a good comprehensive exam,” says Dr. Lacagnina.

Haggerty battles the less serious squamous cell cancer, but given his complexion and sun history, he is always on the lookout.

“You have to keep right on top of them, otherwise they will begin to become serious,” says Haggerty.

As more people get an early cancer diagnosis, it is making their prognosis, much brighter.