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Partners can help identify melanoma

In a study of patients with previous melanoma diagnoses, their partners—who received skin examination training—identified far more mole irregularities than those in the control group, and they grew more confident performing the examinations.

The study, published in JAMA Dermatology (Dec. 14, 2016), was conducted by researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. The investigators found the benefits of partners frequently checking for troublesome moles far outweighed the embarrassment experienced by the patient.

Common places to develop potentially fatal melanoma include hard-to-see areas where it is difficult to apply sunscreen, such as behind the ears and knees, the top of the head, and around the swimsuit line on a woman’s buttocks.

“These aren’t parts of the body that most females like to have examined by their male partner, but at some point, they realized they’re just looking at the moles, not the cellulite,” said lead and senior author Dr. June Robinson, research professor of dermatology at Northwestern, in a press release. “We found as long as the benefit is strong enough, it overcomes whatever potential embarrassment there might be between the partners.”

Partners of patients who had been previously diagnosed with early stages of melanoma performed frequent skin self-self examinations (SSEs) on the patient over the course of the two-year study.

As the study progressed, a partners’ confidence in his or her ability to find irregular moles increased, as did the trust in one another to successfully identify the irregularities.

Participants were asked every four months to indicate on a five-point scale how much they agreed or disagreed with the following two statements: “It is very embarrassing to have my partner help examine my skin,” and “I am very comfortable having my partner help examine my skin.”

Based on their responses, melanoma patients and their partners eventually had no problems being checked for irregular moles by their partners, Dr. Robinson said.

Also noteworthy, the study found men tended to notice mole border irregularities better than women, whereas women tended to see colour variations in the moles better than men.

“The pairs realize, ‘we need to help each other here,’” Dr. Robinson said. “If he sees borders better and she sees colours better, those two heads are better than one when finding the irregularities.”

The 395 participants in the study had previously been diagnosed with early stages of melanoma (0 to IIB) and had surgically removed irregular moles. They were recruited from outpatient clinics of the Northwestern Medicine and were 21 to 80 years of age.

The control group consisted of 99 participants who did not receive SSE training. The remaining participants received training in one of three forms: from a physician, by reading a take-home handbook or by listening to exercises on a tablet. The pairs performed SSEs on one another every month or every other month to check for mole irregularities, and assigned a score to common features of the mole: 1 if the mole looked normal, 2 if they were unsure, and 3 if the mole looked abnormal.

Dr. Robinson’s study received a four-year renewal, allowing her to continue following the participants and checking in every four months on their progress and levels of embarrassment, comfort, and confidence with partner-assisted SSEs.

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