Self-checks are the number one way to detect recurrent melanoma, outperforming technology and routine imaging tests, says a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. While melanoma is attributed to less than one percent of skin cancer diagnoses, it is the cause of most skin cancer deaths, according to

The organization also reports that the five-year survival rate for patients in the United States who catch the disease early is about 98 percent, and falls to 62 percent once it reaches the lymph nodes.

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The study analyzed the data of 581 patients with stage II melanoma and at least one year of follow-up. Taking place from 1996 to 2015, 171 patients with early-stage melanoma developed a recurrence.

“We wanted to get a break down on how we are discovering reoccurring melanomas,” study coauthor Adam C. Berger, MD, FACS, says in a statement on Medical Xpress. The team wanted to determine whether a patient observed a change, if a doctor identified a symptom during a scheduled visit, or if routine imaging found evidence of recurrent melanomas.

Approximately 40 percent of patients detected the signs of recurrence, either from a physical change on their skin or through known symptoms like coughing blood. Another 30 percent of recurrent melanomas were spotted during a scheduled exam and 26 percent were found via imaging.

“The fact that imaging picked up 26 percent of patients with recurrence is notable because it is a little higher than what we’ve seen in the past, which I think reflects the current trend to do more imaging in general,” Dr. Berger says.

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The team believes this research will be vital in determining follow-up guidelines and screenings for melanoma patients. It’s also a vital reminder that at-home detection and monitoring is important in catching the disease early.

“Patients need to be aware of all of their symptoms and their body. But it’s also important for physicians to educate patients as to what to look for and what symptoms are a cause for concern,” Dr. Berger said.

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