Experts unsure if full-body skin cancer screening saves lives

A task force was unable to decipher the effects of frequent, full-body screening on people at high risk for melanoma or other skin cancers.
By Stephen Feller  |  Dec. 11, 2015 at 5:47 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- A panel of medical experts is unsure whether full-body visual screening for skin cancer is beneficial at preventing deaths from the disease, according to a new report.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced there was insufficient evidence to assess the benefits or harms of the regular screenings, opting not to make a recommendation for or against them in their draft report report on melanoma screenings.

The vast majority of skin cancers rarely cause death. Melanoma, which represents two percent of diagnosed skin cancers, is found in about 68,000 people per year, killing more than 9,200. The USPSTF estimates 74,000 people will develop melanoma in 2015 and 9,940 will die from it.

In the USPSTF report, researchers analyzed data from 13 studies and 15 articles about melanoma, screening, and health outcomes of patients, looking to answer several questions to determine if full-body visual screening reduced mortality from the disease.

Although a small reduction in deaths was found, no significant difference in mortality was seen among participants in the study. The researchers could not find studies evaluating overdiagnosis, adverse events related to biopsy, or psychosocial harms as a result of either biopsy or the cosmetic results of having a biopsy taken for cancer screening.

The researchers also could not decipher the effects of more frequent, or thorough, screenings, writing that "a clear statement cannot be made about the benefit of skin cancer screening for melanoma," and suggesting future research to evaluate the effectiveness of targeted screening for people at higher risk of skin cancer.

"The Task Force is dedicated to helping Americans avoid skin cancer and lead healthy lives," said Dr. Michael Pignone, a member of the USPSTF, in a press release. "Until we have more research to better understand the balance of benefits and harms of a clinical visual skin exam, we encourage patients to talk to their doctor about any concerns they have about their skin."

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