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Free skin cancer screening program may lead to earlier detection

New research presented at the American Academy of Dermatology’s (AAD) 2017 Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla., Mar. 3 to 7, emphasized the importance of skin cancer prevention and early detection.

Investigators examined data collected from 118,085 individuals who received a free skin cancer screening through the AAD’s SPOTme® program in 2009 and 2010. Approximately one-third of those surveyed indicated that they had recently observed a change in the size, shape or colour of a mole.

“This result is encouraging, because it shows us that patients are keeping an eye out for suspicious spots on their skin, and that they know to see a board-certified dermatologist to evaluate those spots,” said board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hensin Tsao, a professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School in Boston and one of the researchers who studied the SPOTme® data, in a press release.

In compiling the SPOTme® survey data, researchers found that infrequent sunscreen use, high numbers of blistering childhood sunburns, and chronic indoor tanning bed use were all associated with a mole that had recently changed.

“These results indicate that although people know how to spot skin cancer, they are not taking action to prevent this disease from developing in the first place,” said Dr. Tsao. “While some individuals have a higher risk of developing melanoma than others, everyone increases their risk when they do not protect their skin from harmful UV rays."

The risk of developing melanoma is elevated among certain groups, including Caucasians, men over 50 years of age, people with a personal or family history of skin cancer, and those with many moles, atypical moles or large moles. Among the SPOTme® screening participants studied, however, the factors associated with a changing mole included not only a high mole count and a history of melanoma, but also being female and having skin of colour.

“While Caucasian men over 50 are at greatest risk for developing melanoma, skin cancer can affect anyone, so prevention and detection should be a priority for everyone,” said Dr. Tsao. “No matter [the patient’s] age, race or gender, it is important [for them to] avoid harmful UV exposure from the sun and indoor tanning beds, and to perform regular skin self-exams so [they] can detect this disease early, when it’s most treatable.”

The SPOTme® program aims to facilitate early detection by providing free skin cancer screenings for those who may not be able to see a dermatologist otherwise. “In evaluating the survey data, we observed that being uninsured was one of the factors most strongly associated with a changing mole,” said Dr. Tsao. “This highlights the valuable service that the AAD provides with its SPOTme® program. For some patients, these free screenings can be life-saving.”

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