Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta studied 1,467 patients with melanoma diagnosed by a dermatologist and 553 melanoma patients diagnosed by a non-dermatologist.
On average, tumors diagnosed by dermatologists were thinner than those diagnosed by non-dermatologists -- 0.86 millimeters vs. 1 millimeter thick. When a melanoma tumor is still relatively thin (less than 1 millimeter), patients have a 90 percent cure rate.
Patients diagnosed by a dermatologist also had better survival rates.
"The two-year and five-year survival rates were 86.5 percent and 73.9 percent for the dermatologist group compared with 78.8 percent and 68.7 percent for the non-dermatologist group," the study authors wrote.
"These results suggest that increasing access to dermatologists, particularly for older patients who have higher rates of melanoma, may represent one approach to improving melanoma-related health outcomes from a health policy perspective," they concluded.
The study appears in the April issue of the journal Archives of Dermatology.
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, and can be fatal. Each year in the United States, more than 53,600 people learn they have the disease. In some parts of the world, especially Western countries, melanoma is becoming more common every year. In the United States, for example, the percentage of people who develop melanoma has more than doubled in the past 30 years, according to the National Cancer Institute.