Early detection of thin nodular melanomas has the potential to significantly impact melanoma mortality, “but we want to keep in mind that the majority of ultimately fatal melanomas are superficial spreading melanomas,” Dr. Ferris said. “That is because they are so much more prevalent. As a dermatologist, I think a lot about screening and early detection. Periodic screening is a good strategy for a slower-growing superficial spreading melanoma, but it’s not necessarily a good strategy for a rapidly growing nodular melanoma. That’s going to require better education and better access to health care.”
Self-detection of melanoma is another strategy to consider. According to Dr. Ferris, results from multiple studies suggest that about 50% of all melanomas are detected by patients, but the ones they find tend to be thicker than the ones that clinicians detect during office visits. “It would be great if we can get that number higher than 50%,” Dr. Ferris said. “If patients really understood what melanoma is, what it looks like, and when they needed to seek medical attention, perhaps we could get that over 50% and see self-detection of thinner melanomas. That’s a very low-cost intervention.”
Targeted screening efforts that stratify by risk factors and by age “makes screening more efficient and more cost-effective,” she added. She cited one analysis, which found that clinicians need to screen 606 people and conduct 25 biopsies in order to find one melanoma. “That’s very resource intensive,” she said. “However, if you only screened people 50 or older or 65 or older, the number needed to screen goes down, and because your pretest probability is higher, your number need to biopsy goes down as well. If you factor in things like a history of atypical nevi or a personal history of melanoma, those patients are at a higher risk of developing melanoma.”
Dr. Ferris closed her presentation by noting that Australia leads other countries in melanoma prevention efforts. There, the combined incidence of skin cancer is higher than the incidence of any other type of cancer. Four decades ago, Australian health officials launched, a series of initiatives intended to reduce skin cancer. These include implementation of policies for hat wearing and shade provision in schools and at work, availability of more effective sunscreens, inclusion of sun protection items as a tax-deductible expense for outdoor workers, increased availability since the 1980s of long-sleeved sun protective swimwear, a ban on the use of indoor tanning since 2014, provision of UV forecasts in weather, and a comprehensive program of grants for community shade structures ( ).
“One approach to melanoma prevention won’t fit all,” she concluded. “We need to focus on prevention, public education to improve knowledge and self-detection.”
Dr. Ferris disclosed that she is a consultant to and an investigator for DermTech and Scibase. She is also an investigator for Castle Biosciences.
SDEF and this news organization are owned by the same parent company. Dr. Ferris spoke during a forum on cutaneous malignancies at the meeting.