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Visual screening for skin cancer could be harmful

Although skin cancer is not usually fatal, Oregon residents might be surprised that 74,000 people will receive a melanoma diagnosis in 2015, according to estimates from the National Cancer Institute. Additionally, it estimates that melanoma will take the lives of over 9,900 people. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has found that visual skin cancer may not be enough to make a proper diagnosis and could be harmful.

The USPSTF published a draft evidence review on Dec. 1 about visual screenings for skin cancer in adults who showed symptoms. During its review, it made melanoma screening outcomes a priority and discovered that there is insufficient evidence to fully assess the benefits and detriments associated with visual screenings to detect non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers.

Unable to ascertain how effective full-body visual screenings are for skin cancer, the USPSTF could not link it to a decline in mortality or morbidity. However, there was sufficient evidence to show that visual exams could be detrimental to patients in regard to misdiagnosis or over-diagnosis, and it could lead to a worsened condition.

The medical director for the Health of the Public and Science Division of the American Academy of Family Physicians says that the number of skin cancer cases continues to rise across the United States. People need to be educated about the importance of using sun protection and not using indoor tanning beds, she says. In a policy related to its own recommendation statement, the AAFP says that the best guidance that doctors can give for patients to protect themselves against skin cancer is still to avoid sun exposure as much as possible. This particularly includes spending less time in direct sunlight during peak daylight hours, which are between noon and 3 p.m.

When patients bring up concerns about skin cancer but their physicians are negligent in administering proper testing or in diagnosing them, serious harm could result. Those who find themselves in this type of position may want to have the assistance of a medical malpractice attorney in pursuing compensation for their losses.