Meet The Painless, Surgery-Free Sticker That Helps Detect Skin Cancer
Many insurance companies even cover this new melanoma test.
The weather’s warming up, and you’re probably planning for outdoor adventures that involve sports, music, water play, or just fresh air. Many of us at Beautytap have sung the praises of sunscreen, dermatologist visits, self-checks and even detailed the perils of everything from the early signs of aging to skin cancer, so it probably won’t surprise you to learn that we’re keeping a watchful eye on the technological side of early intervention when it comes to something as serious as melanoma.
Skin cancer isn’t necessarily on everyone’s mind, but it’s on mine more than I can express. As a two-time skin cancer survivor, including melanoma in 2019, I’ve had a frightening number of surgical biopsies in the last 18 months – 15 to be precise – as well as one major and two minor surgeries to remove additional tissue. To say I have needle- and scar-fatigue is an understatement. So, when I learned about a new test in town, I had to take a deep dive.
The California Biotech Company Behind the Scenes
If you’ve ever seen a news segment touting medical research on the verge of becoming a breakthrough, then you might’ve heard of DermTech. The company’s journey first gained media attention in April 2011 after its initial findings were published in the British Journal of Dermatology. To test its technology, DermTech used what is referred to as Epidermal Genetic Information Retrieval (EGIRTM). In simpler terms, a specialized adhesive strip is pressed against a questionably pigmented portion of skin then gently removed to gather genetic material for further analysis. On April 22nd, DermTech launched its next generation Pigmented Lesion Assay (PLA) test, PLAplusTM, which has a 97% sensitivity rating for detecting melanoma, as well as a “negative predictive value of >99%, resulting in a less than 1% probability of missing melanoma.”
Most Biopsies Don’t Return a “Positive for Melanoma” Result
Many people avoid yearly skin check visits because they fear potential bad news, including a potential biopsy. Surprisingly, the number of biopsies performed yearly doesn’t equate to an equally high number of melanoma diagnoses. In fact, researchers have determined that “the vast majority of surgical biopsies are negative for melanoma.” The actual number of negative biopsies is greater than 94%.
Questionable moles and pigmented skin are often biopsied out of an abundance of caution, and when those lab results indicate the presence of atypical cells, 30% of patients – like me – are subjected to additional excisional procedures to remove all questionable tissue. In layman’s terms, the patient undergoes two separate procedures involving local anesthesia, tissue removal, and suturing, plus the dreaded 10–14 days spent waiting for results in between each procedure.
Skip the Scalpel and the Scar
Burying your head in the sand and ditching those yearly visits may ultimately do you more harm than good, so here’s some good news that you should take note of and plan to discuss with your doctor. DermTech’s technology eliminates the anesthesia, pain, cutting, and resulting scarring associated with fact-finding biopsies. The little sticker can be used on moles and other pigmented areas that measure at least 5 mm in size (approximately one-quarter of an inch).
According to DermTech’s studies, the PLA “improves care with a negative predictive value of >99% while reducing biopsies by 90% and while reducing cost.”
On-Site or At-Home Testing
COVID-19 may have changed the way telemedicine works, but DermTech was already headed toward at-home testing before the pandemic hit. If your current doctor offers telemedicine appointments, he or she may want you to get a suspicious spot tested for melanoma. DermTech’s sticker makes at-home testing a breeze, and the results will be mailed to your doctor for review and recommendation.
Simply place it on top of the spot or mole in question, press the sticker firmly in place, outline the circle on the patch, and then peel it off and stick it onto the collection paper. The smart stickers lift “1.5 milligrams of tissue from the top layers of your skin without causing damage to the site.” The genomic material is then analyzed for the presence of PRAME and LINC00518, two genes that are elevated in individuals with melanoma. And perhaps best of all, your doctor will receive the report in 3-5 business days, and you won’t have to worry about wound care or suture removal while awaiting results.
Insurance Companies Are Opting In
Getting a healthcare provider to pay for a test isn’t the easiest thing to do, even when that test might help reduce expenses down the line for the insurer. Biopsies aren’t always covered by insurance, which causes many people to skip them due to the expense – a practice that can backfire in the long run. Luckily, insurers are hopping on board, including Medicare, Blue Shield of California, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. In some cases, insurance will even cover the cost if you use the test at home under the supervision of a medical professional.
Caveats to Consider
As promising as any new technology sounds, keep in mind that the implementation of the DermTech patch depends on your dermatologist’s preferences. Many believe that further testing must be done before they will adopt usage; others are still concerned about the cost involved (initially $400 when introduced). It’s also important to remember that some pigmented lesions will be too small to test per DermTech’s guidelines, and a traditional surgical biopsy will likely be recommended if your results come back positive for melanoma or if you’re already at high risk due to a previous skin cancer diagnosis.
For more information, consult with your dermatologist or primary care provider and visit DermTech’s website to learn about their financial assistance program to see if you’re eligible for the $50 max out-of-pocket program.