Partnering For Spotting Skin Cancer

Over 1 million people living in the United States has a history of melanoma.  If all those survivors had a partner, other than their dermatologist, trained in spotting potential skin cancers, this could be the difference between life and death.

“Once a person has had melanoma, they are at risk of developing a second skin cancer with their risk elevated for up to 20 years and are 10 times greater than the risk of a first melanoma in the general population,” stated Dr. June Robinson, a professor of dermatology at Northwestern University in Chicago and lead author of a two year randomized clinical trial examining the partner-assisted skin self-examination (SSE).  The study followed melanoma patients with stage 0 to IIB melanoma and their skin-check partners.

Using “skin check partners” can help people who’ve had melanoma to examine areas of their body they can’t easily see themselves.  If something unusual is spotted, together the partner and patient make a decision on whether to see a doctor or not.  The earlier new melanomas can be spotted, the more lives that can be saved. 

The new study enrolled 494 melanoma patients and their partners who were placed into one of two groups: usual care or to the skill-based intervention for SSE, which was provided either in-person in the office, in a workbook, or on a tablet. The training for SSE included how to recognize changes in moles by looking for changes in the border, color, and diameter and were reinforced at 4-month intervals during skin examinations by a dermatologist.

During the two years, 66 of the patients out of the 494 patients developed new melanomas.  Skin-check partners trained using SSE identified 43 melanomas.  In comparison, none of the patient-partner pairs in the comparison control group who received only usual care without training in SSE identified melanoma according to the results. 

The takeaway from this study is that melanoma patients and their skin check partners can be relied upon to perform skin checks for melanoma.  When trained on knowing what to look for, this gives the patient and their partner more power in alleviating anxiety and fear about any and every little new skin change is not necessarily skin cancer.  But if they do suspect something is different, they should contact their dermatologist immediately to have it checked further.

This study also found that when a person who’s had melanoma has a partner for skin checks, it encourages regular checks while creating a bond between the two and providing a sense of control at the same time.

According to the American Cancer Society estimates that for the year 2016, about 76,380 new cases for melanoma will be diagnosed and about 10,130 people are expected to die from this disease. 

Cancers of the skin which include basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma, are by far the most common of all cancers.  Melanoma accounts for only about 1% of skin cancers but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths.  The rates of melanoma have been rising for the past 30 years. 

To learn more about conducting a skin self-examination, visit here.  Any change in a mole or in another area of skin warrants a visit to a dermatologist as soon as possible. 

To learn how to steps you can take to protect your skin from skin cancers, visit here.