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    Skin Cancer Screening (PDQ®): Screening - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Description of the Evidence


    A population-based trial using cluster randomization to determine the effect of skin screening on melanoma mortality was initiated in Queensland, Australia.[22] Intervention communities were randomly assigned to receive a 3-year program targeting adults older than age 30 years. The program consisted of:

    • Community education and promotion of self-screening.
    • General practitioner education about screening and training in the diagnosis of melanoma.
    • Free skin cancer screening clinics.

    Matched control communities received usual care. Originally designed to include 44 matched communities followed for 15 years, the trial lost its funding after its initial pilot phase in 18 communities (population 63,035).[23] Although the pilot phase established feasibility of community-based programs, no health outcomes were reported. In the study, 16,383 whole-body skin examinations were reported in the intervention communities, resulting in a referral rate of 14.1% (18.2% for people aged 50 years or older). Thirty-three melanomas were diagnosed, 13 of which were in situ. The estimated specificity for melanoma was 86.1%, with a positive predictive value (PPV) of 2.5%. The PPVs for squamous cell and for basal cell cancers were 7.2% and 19.3%, respectively. Negative screens were not followed up, and the sensitivity of skin examination was not reported.[24]

    Evidence of Harm Associated With Screening

    Harms have not been well studied or reported in quantitative terms. However, visual examination of the skin in asymptomatic individuals may lead to unavoidable adverse consequences. These include complications of diagnostic or treatment interventions (including extensive surgery) and the psychological effects of being labeled with a potentially fatal disease. Another harmful consequence is overdiagnosis leading to the detection of biologically benign disease that would otherwise go undetected and the possibility of misdiagnosis of a benign lesion as malignant. (Refer to the Accuracy of Making a Clinical Diagnosis of Melanoma section of this summary for more information.)


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    2. Harris RB, Griffith K, Moon TE: Trends in the incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancers in southeastern Arizona, 1985-1996. J Am Acad Dermatol 45 (4): 528-36, 2001.
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    10. English DR, Armstrong BK, Kricker A, et al.: Case-control study of sun exposure and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. Int J Cancer 77 (3): 347-53, 1998.
    11. Thomas VD, Aasi SZ, Wilson LD, et al.: Cancer of the skin. In: DeVita VT Jr, Hellman S, Rosenberg SA, eds.: Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. Vols. 1 & 2. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008, pp 1863-87.
    12. Le Mire L, Hollowood K, Gray D, et al.: Melanomas in renal transplant recipients. Br J Dermatol 154 (3): 472-7, 2006.
    13. Gandini S, Sera F, Cattaruzza MS, et al.: Meta-analysis of risk factors for cutaneous melanoma: I. Common and atypical naevi. Eur J Cancer 41 (1): 28-44, 2005.
    14. Chen SC, Bravata DM, Weil E, et al.: A comparison of dermatologists' and primary care physicians' accuracy in diagnosing melanoma: a systematic review. Arch Dermatol 137 (12): 1627-34, 2001.
    15. Farmer ER, Gonin R, Hanna MP: Discordance in the histopathologic diagnosis of melanoma and melanocytic nevi between expert pathologists. Hum Pathol 27 (6): 528-31, 1996.
    16. Friedman RJ, Rigel DS, Kopf AW: Early detection of malignant melanoma: the role of physician examination and self-examination of the skin. CA Cancer J Clin 35 (3): 130-51, 1985 May-Jun.
    17. Blois MS, Sagebiel RW, Abarbanel RM, et al.: Malignant melanoma of the skin. I. The association of tumor depth and type, and patient sex, age, and site with survival. Cancer 52 (7): 1330-41, 1983.
    18. Wolff T, Tai E, Miller T: Screening for skin cancer: an update of the evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med 150 (3): 194-8, 2009.
    19. MacKie RM, Hole D: Audit of public education campaign to encourage earlier detection of malignant melanoma. BMJ 304 (6833): 1012-5, 1992.
    20. Katalinic A, Waldmann A, Weinstock MA, et al.: Does skin cancer screening save lives? An observational study comparing trends in melanoma mortality in regions with and without screening. Cancer 118 (21): 5395-402, 2012.
    21. Breitbart EW, Waldmann A, Nolte S, et al.: Systematic skin cancer screening in Northern Germany. J Am Acad Dermatol 66 (2): 201-11, 2012.
    22. Aitken JF, Elwood JM, Lowe JB, et al.: A randomised trial of population screening for melanoma. J Med Screen 9 (1): 33-7, 2002.
    23. Lowe JB, Ball J, Lynch BM, et al.: Acceptability and feasibility of a community-based screening programme for melanoma in Australia. Health Promot Int 19 (4): 437-44, 2004.
    24. Aitken JF, Janda M, Elwood M, et al.: Clinical outcomes from skin screening clinics within a community-based melanoma screening program. J Am Acad Dermatol 54 (1): 105-14, 2006.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

    Last Updated: May 28, 2015
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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