An international research team recently discovered a new way to detect amelanotic melanoma, a form of skin cancer that lacks the brown or black color that stems from the pigment melanin.

The University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center scientists spearheaded the effort, which was outlined in JAMA Dermatology.

“Amelanotic melanoma is linked to worse survival because it’s more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage,” Nancy E. Thomas, the study’s senior author and chair in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Dermatology, said. “We have identified phenotypic traits that will trigger doctors and patients to pay attention not just to pigmented lesions, but also to these pink spots.”

Researchers analyzed the characteristics of 178 patients with the disease drawn from a study of 2,995 melanoma patients enrolled in The Genes, Environment and Melanoma international study – which enrolled patients from 1998 to 2004.

The authors noted a 2014 study led by UNC Lineberger researchers revealed amelanotic melanoma was typically diagnosed at more advanced stages than pigmented melanoma and the risk of death was higher. They also said that amelanotic melanoma can evade detection because it falls outside commonly used diagnostic criteria.

The American Cancer Society estimates more than 87,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in America this year, with melanoma accounting for only about one percent of skin cancers, but causing a large majority of skin cancer deaths.