CHICAGO, June 7 (UPI) -- Regular screening for skin cancer could help doctors detect it earlier, finding cancer when it is smaller and potentially easier to treat, researchers say.
A study led by the University of Pittsburgh found screening by primary care physicians allowed doctors to detect thinner melanomas in patients, especially in men who are more likely to develop the disease and die from it, according to researchers who presented the unpublished study on June 7 at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting.
The program was based on a similar one in Germany, and was mounted by researchers because of increasing rates of skin cancer that is farther along and more difficult to treat.
"The PCP screenings prevented a lot of people from needing more aggressive therapy," Dr. Laura Ferris, an associate professor in the department of dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said in a press release. "Additionally, we did not see a high rate of false positive biopsies, in which no skin cancer was present, nor did we see a high rate of unnecessary dermatology referrals or skin surgeries, all of which suggest that the program did not simply drive up health care costs needlessly."
PCPs screened 15 percent of 333,788 eligible patients at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center age 35 and older during 2014.
Overall, melanomas found by primary care physicians were nearly twice as thin as those detected in patients not screened as part of the trial program.
Just 5 percent of patients in the screening group had melanomas thicker than 1 millimeter, which are more likely to metastasize, as opposed to 20 percent of the group not exposed to early screening.
"Our findings suggest that PCP screening is an effective way to improve early detection of melanoma, which could potentially save lives," Ferris said.