Screening for Skin Cancer

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Each year, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer put together. [1]  Early detection can, literally, be the difference between life and death. When it is detected early, before it has reached the lymph nodes, survival rates are as high as 98 percent. [2]


    We know that wearing sunscreen, wearing wide brimmed hats and covering your arms and legs when you are out in the sun helps to prevent sunburn, and therefore can lower your risk of developing skin cancer in the future. But do you know how likely you are to develop it? A doctor in New Zealand is working on a prediction model that will help doctors determine how much risk a person is of developing skin cancer within the next five years.

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    Dr. Mary-Jane Sneyd, a cancer researcher at the University of Otago, has come up with a statistical formula based on personal factors including:

    • Color of hair, eyes and skin
    • Sun exposure
    • Family history
    • Occupation
    • Age
    • Gender
    • Place of residence

    Using a rigorous statistical process, the risk of developing skin cancer within the next five years is determined. Dr. Sneyd hopes that this information can become readily available to physicians to help identify those most at risk. “People deemed high risk could then be targeted with prevention options and surveillance, which hopefully could lead to early diagnosis and treatment,” Dr. Sneyd told The Dominion Post.  Dr. Sneyd hasn’t yet determined what “high risk” is, saying a person with even a 5 percent chance of developing melanoma could probably be considered high risk. [2]


    Right now, those without any symptoms of skin cancer aren’t necessarily routinely screened and medical associations don’t always agree on what is best. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Academy of Family Physicians state that there is insufficient evidence to recommend either for or against routine screening. The American Cancer Society however recommends that those between the ages of 20 and 40 complete monthly self examinations and see a medical professional for an examination every three years. For those over 40, an annual medical examination is recommended.  The National Institutes of Health does recommend that screening for melanoma be part of primary care. [3]


    It remains to be seen whether, if such a screening tool is available, medical professionals would use it on all patients or if it would be used on certain patients who were thought to be at a higher risk of developing melanoma. New Zealand, where Dr. Sneyd practices, has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Possibly medical professionals there would find it beneficial to screen on a routine basis, regardless of whether someone is thought to have a higher than normal risk.




    [3] “Cutaneous Melanoma: Update on Prevention, Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment,” 2005, July 15, Erika L. Rager, M.D. et al, American Family Physician


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    [2] “Doctor Identifies Your Risk of Getting Skin Cancer,” 2013, April 5, Bronwyn Torrie, The Dominion Post


    [1] “Skin Cancer Facts,” Updated 2013, Feb. 12, Staff Writer, The Skin Cancer Foundation

Published On: April 08, 2013