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Pitt Study Examines Motivations of Patients Who Seek Skin Cancer Screenings


Pittsburgh, PA October 18, 2010 – Women are more likely to seek skin cancer screenings because of a worrisome skin lesion (to avoid repetition of concern), a family history of skin cancer or concern about sun exposure, whereas men ages 50 and older, a group at highest risk for melanoma, may seek screenings only after a previous skin cancer diagnosis, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine whose findings appear in the October edition of Archives of Dermatology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

"Interestingly, the patients seeking skin cancer screenings are not necessarily the patients who are at the highest risk for developing or dying from melanoma," said Laura Korb Ferris, M.D., Ph.D., corresponding author on the study and assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Researchers surveyed patients over the age of 18 who were seen at a dermatologist's office for skin cancer screenings between May and October 2009. Participants completed a 12-question survey with information about demographic factors, risk factors for melanoma and reasons for seeking skin cancer screenings.

Of the 487 patients surveyed, more than 80 percent made an appointment for screening without a particular skin lesion that concerned them. In addition, patients younger than the age of 50 were more likely to seek screening because of a family history of melanoma, and men 50 years or older were more likely than other groups to seek screening because they had a previous skin cancer diagnosis.

The most common reasons for seeking skin cancer screening were a personal history of skin cancer, followed by concern about sun exposure and a family history of non-melanoma skin cancer.

"A large percentage of patients, more than 72 percent of them, believe that skin cancer screenings have been shown to prevent skin cancer, a belief that is inaccurate and without scientific basis." said Dr. Ferris. "Also, almost 90 percent of these same respondents correctly believe that skin cancer screenings can reduce the risk of death from skin cancer, and they viewed skin cancer screenings as equally valuable as colonoscopy, mammography and Pap smears in preventing cancer-related death."

In the United States, melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, was diagnosed in more than 62,000 people in 2008, and almost 8,500 died of the disease that same year. Other skin cancers, such as basal and squamous cell carcinomas, are more prevalent, but rarely fatal.

"While patients show great interest in skin cancer screenings, there currently are no universally accepted guidelines for when people should have their first screening and how often they should be screened," said Dr. Ferris.

"We believe that there needs to be better communication with the public in the form of specific guidelines, with an emphasis on encouraging screening of older men, which could allow us to reach those patients who would most benefit from skin cancer screening."

Researchers were supported with funding from the University of Pittsburgh Dean's Summer Research Program.

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About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
As one of the nation's leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1997 and now ranks fifth in the nation, according to NIH data for 2008 (the most recent year for which the data are final).

Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region's economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see www.medschool.pitt.edu.