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Early detection critical to beating deadly melanoma

Many Pennsylvania residents are diagnosed each year with melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. May is Melanoma Awareness Month, and as the days get longer and people engage in outdoor activities, it is important to pay attention to sun protection and skin care.

Melanoma is the most common form of cancer experienced by women in their 20s and 30s, although the risk of melanoma grows with age. While only around 1 percent of skin cancers are melanoma, it causes a significant majority of deaths due to skin cancer.

Early detection is one of the most critical tools in preventing melanoma from becoming deadly. In fact, when detected early, the survival rate is 94 to 100 percent. Without early detection, however, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body, leading to a survival rate of only 20 percent.

Doctors follow a series of guidelines to examine a patient's skin for melanoma. Dermatologists look for moles that are asymmetric, with irregular borders and varying colors. Moles at higher risk for being melanoma can also have a changed diameter or overall appearance, while family history of melanoma also plays a role. While it is connected to a history of heavy sunburns, melanoma can develop in places without sun exposure, like the scalp, the soles of feet or inside the eye.

The importance of early detection of melanoma cannot be overstated. A physician who failed to perform appropriate tests on moles that meet the guidelines of being at high risk for melanoma may be negligent if the cancer developed past the early stages without detection. Melanoma sufferers whose cancer was missed by a physician may wish to consult with a lawyer to determine whether their case is a potential example of medical malpractice.

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