Why Would These Experts Fail to Recommend Skin Cancer Screenings?


A new report calls into question the value of skin cancer screenings by clinicians. (Photo: Getty Images)

On July 26, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released a statement announcing that it does not have enough evidence to formally recommend skin cancer screenings.

In its review, which was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the USPSTF concluded that the current research is “insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of visual skin examination by a clinician to screen for skin cancer in adults.”

The independent panel of experts gave the visual screening a grade of I (meaning “insufficient”). But not everyone agrees with their assessment. “I definitely think the USPSTF did what they have done in the past, which is said something about something they don’t know anything about,” Mark Faries, MD, surgical oncologist and director of the Donald L. Morton, MD, Melanoma Research Program and director of therapeutic immunology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Beauty. “But I think there’s been a certain amount of reaction to [the report] from the groups that deal with skin cancer, those who recognize the implicit value of early detection of these cancers.”

And he’s correct. Abel Torres, MD, president of the American Academy of Dermatology, released a statement in response, noting that this influential group of dermatologists is “disappointed.”

“It is important for the public to understand that the USPSTF is not recommending against skin cancer screenings; it means the group did not find conclusive evidence to make a recommendation one way or another,” Torres said. “Additionally, the public should know that this recommendation does not apply to individuals with suspicious skin lesions and those with an increased skin cancer risk, and it does not address the practice of skin self-exams.”

Martin Weinstock, MD, a professor of dermatology at Brown University and chief of dermatology at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center, also supports skin cancer screenings as an early detection method. “If you were to take a poll among practicing dermatologists, you’d find the vast majority believe that early detection reduces risk of death from melanoma,” said Weinstock in a press release. “Skin self-examination and clinician skin examination are a means of early detection. That’s the predominant tool that we have. It makes eminent sense that primary care doctors should be trained to do examination for melanoma.”

Faries states there’s been some pushback in oncology and medicine against certain screening tests “because some have been associated with actual, significant harms.”

For example, he points to the PSA blood test, which measures the level of prostate-specific antigen in a man’s blood in order to examine the functioning of the prostate. “This test might be associated with increased biopsies of normal prostate or detection of cancers that are not clinically meaningful,” he explains. “However, with a skin check, you’re not subjecting anyone to anything harmful. They’re not getting radiation from X-rays — it’s a pretty straightforward modality that can catch something when it’s easily curable and keep it from turning into something that can be fatal.”

Also, Faries believes a full-body skin screening is vital because it raises awareness. “Another important aspect of it is not just early detection, but prevention,” he adds.

Overall, he states that it makes “intuitive sense” for people who are at risk for skin cancers to be examined by a medical professional.

“Their [the USPSTF’s] conclusion is they don’t know enough about it,” says Faries. “And from my perspective, if a group doesn’t know enough about the topic to say anything one way or the other, people should go with the experts in the field.”

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