First of its kind study by Cleveland Clinic highlights importance of early melanoma treatment

Posted at 5:28 PM, Oct 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-27 17:28:09-04

Melanoma can be a terrifying and even deadly disease. Up until now, there has also been a lot of mystery when it comes to just how long you can wait between getting diagnosed and treatment. But a groundbreaking new study is answering that question and changing how the skin cancer is treated.

“It started out that I had a little blood mole, it looked like a little blood mole that had come up on my shoulder,” explained Liz Taylor, who went right to her doctor and had the growth removed as soon as it started to change.

“And then the results came back that it was cancer,” she said. “I was really scared.”

From there, Taylor had to have a deeper surgery and get her lymph nodes checked to make sure it hadn't spread.

“Normally I would have just probably ignored it, but the fact that I didn't makes me feel a whole lot better about the choice I made with going in right away, and then how quickly they got everything through for me,” she noted.

Dr Brian Gastman, surgical director for melanoma at Cleveland Clinic, says acting fast made all the difference for Liz.

“The tumor could have been easily larger and she could have been a higher stage as a result,” he said. “The fact that we were able to get to her earlier means that her stage was lower.”

Turns out, tackling melanoma at an early stage is key. Researchers at Cleveland Clinic studied more than 150,000 patients through the National Cancer Database. They found waiting more than 90 days for surgery decreased survival rates at all stages, while the earlier the melanoma was treated in Stage I -- within the first 30 days -- the better.

“So, to have an impact on it by treating it more speedily is very important, based on our study,” explained Dr. Gastman. “We did not know that prior to the study. That has never been shown before and only through a large database were we able to garner that information.”

According to Dr. Gastman, the study highlights the importance of timing for both patients and doctors.

“I think regardless, I think there should be a general urgency when you're dealing with a patient with melanoma but specifically, in those earlier stage melanomas, don't let your guard down because it's early,” he said.

Taylor is now cancer free. She just has to follow up with the dermatologist every three months for the next two years.