The incidence of cutaneous melanoma, the most lethal of all the skin cancers, has risen every year since 1979 . Although most cases occur after the age of 40, incidence is rising among younger women, thanks in part to the increased use of tanning beds and other artificial tanning devices .
When melanoma is diagnosed while still confined to the outer layers of the skin, simple excision is generally curative and the 5-year relative survival rate is approximately 98% . Unfortunately, despite the amenability of melanoma to early diagnosis through simple visual inspection, many patients continue to be diagnosed with more advanced disease. As a result, over 9,000 Americans die of melanoma each year.
The need to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accuracy of melanoma diagnosis is clear. The personal and financial costs of failing to diagnose melanoma early are considerable. On the other hand, inexpert screening for melanoma can lead to numerous unnecessary biopsies and excisions of benign skin lesions that resemble melanoma.