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Early stage melanomas are curable with surgeryThe first thing you should know is that even if your suspicions are confirmed, melanoma when caught early, is nearly always curable. There are two distinct growth phases of a melanoma skin lesion. In the first stage, the lesion grows outward, increasing its diameter. Cure rates exceed 99% when the melanoma is caught in this early, non-invasive stage. It is not until the melanoma enters its second stage, where the tumor begins to invade deeper into the skin that it becomes much more dangerous. So don't delay - if you have any concern seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Who should examine you?Melanoma in its early stage is difficult even for trained physicians to detect. In one recent study, resident primary care physicians misdiagnosed skin cancers 50% of the time. Other studies have shown that the ability of a primary care physician to correctly diagnose melanoma improves with experience but even after 10 years in practice, the mis-detection rate can exceed 30% [1]. For this reason, it is highly recommended that all suspicious moles be examined by a qualified, experienced dermatologist. Ask your primary care physician for a referral.

If my doctors tells me not to worry, then what?Another concern is that patients become complacent after a doctor examines them and tells them there is nothing to worry about. This so called, false assurance can lead to a patient not seeking medical attention in the future should the mole began to change. Remember, a mole can become cancerous at anytime.

What if I'm still concernedGiven the difficulty of detection and the seriousness of a misdiagnosis, do not hesitate to seek a second opinion. Even dermatologists occasionally miss a diagnosis. When in doubt, double check.

Are there techniques that can improve the accuracy of detectionA skin surface microscopy that uses a small magnifying glass attached to the end of an oroscope, the instrument that doctors use to look in eyes and ears, can help your dermatologist detect troublesome features of a mole before they could be seen with the naked eye, be detected with the naked eye, enhancing doctors' diagnostic accuracy quite significantly."

In Review

  • Early stage melanoma is curable but can be difficult to detect.

  • Whenever possible, the examination should be done by a dermatologist.

  • Don't become complacent if the examination proves negative. If the mole changes in the future, seek medical attention.

  • If you are still concerned, seek a second opinion.