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Regular Doctor Visits Diminishes Mortality Rate In Skin Cancer Patients

Update Date: May 08, 2014 09:17 AM EDT

The risk of dying from the most dangerous types of skin cancer is largely reduced with regular doctor visits, according to a new study.

The study is first to link melanoma mortality with routine health care use. 

According to the study, deaths from melanoma dropped 70 percent in patients who had at least one visit to their family doctor or to a specialist in the five years prior to their diagnosis. 

The study also found substantial reductions in mortality in patients who underwent preventive screenings i.e. fasting blood test or colonoscopy. 

"This study is important because it's not about having health insurance or having access to care. It's about tapping into that care," said Melody Eide, M.D., MPH, a Henry Ford Hospital dermatologist and the study's lead author, according to a press release.

"We know that people are always going to have struggles in their lives. They're going to have unreliable transportation, children that they're caring for, copays that are too expensive to pay. What this study suggests is that these types of barriers may impact your prognosis for cancer if they impede your ability to make your medical care a priority."

According to statistics from National Institutes of Health, from 2002-2011, all cancer deaths declined by 1.5 percent annually. Melanoma deaths increased 5 percent in the early to mid-1990s but have since leveled off. 

Researchers also found that visiting a specialist prior to melanoma diagnosis reduced risk of dying by as much as 90 percent. 

"This suggests that these patients who do better may be more engaged in their care or have less outside demands distracting from their care," Dr. Eide added. "It's not just about having insurance and having a doctor you see, it may be about being invested and an advocate for your own health. We found that regardless of their cancer stage at diagnosis, these patients who saw more specialists and had compliance with their fasting lipid panels and other screenings had a better prognosis. This may suggest a role for the patient in improving their health by being engaged and prioritizing their care."

The study will be presented at the Society of Investigative Dermatology's annual meeting in New Mexico.

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