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Skin Cancer Visual Screenings Don’t Offer Enough Evidence of Reducing Deaths

Jul 28, 2016 03:41 AM EDT
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A new study suggests that visual screenings for skin cancer do not offer enough evidence in preventing cancer deaths.
(Photo : Dan Zen / Flickr)

Health experts have long since urged patients to undergo full-body screenings for possible developments of skin cancer. However, a new study from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) suggested that screening does not offer enough evidence in preventing skin cancer deaths.

In a review published in JAMA, the USPSTF provided an update on its initial 2009 review on visual skin cancer screenings, reiterating that "the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms."

But according to Dr. Michael Pignone, chair at the University of Texas Dell Medical School in Austin and task force member, the findings does not mean that the visual tests are not useful. The group merely suggests that the evidence is not good enough, Pignone said.

"The stream of evidence for skin cancer screening compared to other types of cancer screening for cervical, colorectal and breast cancers doesn't exist," Dr. David Grossman, vice chair of USPSTF, said in a statement.

"Skin cancer screening hasn't been a highly active area with regard to data answering questions about potential harms and benefits."

The USPSTF is an independent volunteer panel of medical experts that reviews current scientific evidence for specific preventive services and recommends services that are effective for patients.

The panel reviewed 13 studies that analyze the ability of visual screening to reduce deaths caused by melanoma, harmful effects of biopsies and whether the tests would lead to early detection of skin cancer.

The updated review gave a rating of "I" (evidence is insufficient), the same rating as the 2009 review conducted by the panel on the same subject.

However, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that cases of skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the U.S., continue to increase. Melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, has killed 9,394 people in 2013. In the same year, 71,943 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with the same condition.

At the moment, USPSTF does not recommend full-body visual screening for healthy people, but does not discourage the procedure either. 

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