For Better Skin Cancer Checks, Partner Up

WEDNESDAY, June 29, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Check this out: Getting a partner trained to spot potential skin cancers can be a lifesaver for melanoma survivors, a new study shows.

“‘Skin check partners’ help melanoma patients to see areas they cannot easily see by themselves, and assist in making a decision about whether the mole changed and they need to see the doctor,” explained lead researcher Dr. June Robinson.

Together, “the trained pair works together successfully to find early melanoma,” explained Robinson, who’s a professor of dermatology at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Melanoma patients are at increased risk for developing more melanomas, so early detection of new melanomas can save their lives.

In the new study, Robinson’s team assigned 494 melanoma patients and their partners to one of two groups: standard care or special training in skin self-examination. The training was provided either in person, in a workbook or on a tablet.

Training included how to recognize changes in the border, color and diameter of moles, the researchers explained.

During two years of follow-up, 66 of the patients did go on to develop a new melanoma.

However, 43 of those melanomas were spotted by the patient-partner pairs in the skin self-examination training group, compared to zero among the patient-partner pairs who hadn’t gotten the training.

One skin cancer expert called the approach “brilliant.”

“Once someone has a diagnosis of melanoma, they tend to think everything new on their skin is a skin cancer, and their sense of anxiety about any the other lesions on their skin is often greatly increased,” said dermatologist Dr. Doris Day, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“Having special training on the specifics of what to look for — and what may be a concern — gives them powerful information that can allay that anxiety and provide excellent information for the dermatologist taking care of them as well,” she said.

The “partnership” aspect of the approach is key, Day added.

“It helps encourage regular checks, it creates a partnership in the process and allows for the patient and their partner to have a sense of control,” she said.

And if a blemish does look suspicious, see a professional.

“Skin cancers can be a variety of colors, sizes or shapes, so any new growth or lesion that has been present for more than a few weeks is worth a trip to your dermatologist,” said Dr. Katy Burris, a dermatologist at Northwell Health in Manhasset, N.Y.

According to the American Cancer Society, over 76,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma this year, and more than 10,000 will die from the disease.

The study was published online June 29 in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on melanoma.