Thursday, April 28, 2005

Melanoma in the News

This AP story showed up in my local paper today, and has been widely circulated in papers across the country. Unfortunately, given the constraints of reporting on complicated medical issues, there is much more to the story. Most adults are aware that the rate of melanoma in this country has been increasing at an alarming rate, and now comes this report about an increase in melanomas in children. What is hard for most folks to grasp (including thick-headed surgeons like myself) is that sometimes it is quite difficult to diagnose a melanoma. This is particularly true in children, who are more likely to have a lesion called a Spitz nevus -- it looks quite like a melanoma, but behaves differently. I know a world class dermatopathologist who has agonized over this differential many times, and occasionally we simply have to say "we're not sure." That certainly leaves treating physicians without a solid basis for treatment, and leave parents extremely nervous.

I am often perturbed about "medical" stories put out by the media, as they often miss the point, and just as often mislead. In this instance, even though the story is somewhat incomplete, I think it may do some good, getting parents to keep sunscreen on their kids and getting the kids with worrisome skin lesions in to see a dermatologist.

More thoughts from Dr. Andy.