More Data Needed to Advise on Skin Cancer Screening
HealthDay News — There is insufficient evidence to recommend regular full-body exams for skin cancer as a means of preventing deaths from these cancers, according to a new review and recommendation statement published in the July 26 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The new report doesn't change the Task Force's prior statement on skin cancer screening issued in 2009. This latest update is "an explicit call for more evidence," David Grossman, MD, MPH, vice-chairperson of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, told HealthDay, adding that very little new research has surfaced on either the benefits or the harms of screening for skin cancer during the past seven years.
The largest recent study involved more than 360,000 people in northern Germany who received regular skin screening as well as education on sun protection, Grossman said. That study showed a nearly 50% decline in mortality rates from melanoma in men, and improved melanoma mortality rates compared with other nearby regions. "It's unclear whether the drop they saw in mortality is related to the screening or to improved behavioral response, with people using skin protection," Grossman said. In addition, "that rate wasn't sustained over time," he said. "If we saw a number of studies like this and they all were consistent and sustained, we would consider such evidence."
In an accompanying editorial, dermatologist Martin Weinstock, MD, PhD, of Brown University's Warren Alpert Medical School in Providence, R.I., argued that "insufficient evidence of benefit" doesn't mean the same thing as "evidence of no benefit." The largest benefit of regular skin exams would be catching a melanoma before it became invasive. "The worst risk would be unnecessary biopsies that could lead to scarring of a person's skin and greater health care costs," he told HealthDay.