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Skin Cancer, Screening, 2016

* Indicates an old grade definition

Recommendations: Screening for Skin Cancer

Clinical Consideration:

Patient Population Under Consideration

This recommendation applies to asymptomatic adults who do not have a history of premalignant or malignant skin lesions. Patients who present with a suspicious skin lesion or who are already under surveillance because of a high risk of skin cancer, such as those with a familial syndrome (eg, familial atypical mole and melanoma syndrome), are outside the scope of this recommendation statement.

Assessment of Risk

Skin cancer of any type occurs more commonly in men than in women and among persons with a fair complexion, persons who use indoor tanning beds, and persons with a history of sunburns or previous skin cancer. Specific risk factors for melanoma include having a dysplastic nevus (atypical mole), having multiple (ie, ≥100) nevi, and having a family history of melanoma.34 Like most types of cancer, the risk of melanoma increases with age; the median age at diagnosis is 63 years, and the median age at death is 69 years.1

Suggestions for Practice Regarding the I Statement

Potential Benefit of Early Detection and Treatment

Direct evidence to assess the effect of screening with a clinical visual skin examination on the risk of death from skin cancer is limited.3 A single ecologic study (Skin Cancer Research to Provide Evidence for Effectiveness of Screening in Northern Germany [SCREEN]) with important methodological limitations suggests that a 1-time, general population-based screening program (with limited participation of 19%) combined with a disease awareness campaign may result in, at most, 1 fewer death due to melanoma per 100,000 persons over a decade.5 An independent analysis of the SCREEN population found that the observed melanoma mortality rate returned to preintervention levels after 5 years of follow-up (Figure).6

Potential Harms of Early Detection and Treatment

Information on the harms of screening is also sparse.3 The majority of suspicious skin lesions excised during screening are not cancerous; for example, the SCREEN study found that between 20 and 55 excisions were performed to detect 1 case of melanoma, depending on patient age.7 The SCREEN study did not report the number of excisions required to prevent 1 death from melanoma, but it can be estimated at more than 4,000. Overdiagnosis and overtreatment—the diagnosis and treatment of cancer that would never have harmed the patient in the absence of screening—are other important potential harms. Ecologic evidence suggests that screening with a visual skin examination results in the overdiagnosis of skin cancer;89 however, current evidence is insufficient to be reliably certain of the magnitude of this effect.

Current Practice

Contemporary data on clinician practice patterns related to skin cancer screening are limited. A 2005 survey of US physicians found that 81% of dermatologists, 60% of primary care physicians, and 56% of internists reported performing a full-body visual skin cancer screening examination on their adult patients.10

Screening Tests

The clinical visual skin examination assesses skin lesions using the “ABCDE rule,” which involves looking for the following characteristics: asymmetry, border irregularity, nonuniform color, diameter greater than 6 mm, and evolving over time.

Screening Interval

The optimal interval for visual skin examination by a clinician to screen for skin cancer, if it exists, is unknown.


Treatment of screen-detected melanoma generally involves excision, with or without lymph node management, depending on the stage at diagnosis. There are a variety of treatments available for squamous and basal cell carcinoma (which have excellent cure rates), including surgical excision, Mohs micrographic surgery, radiation therapy, curettage and electrodessication, and cryosurgery, among other options.

Other Approaches to Prevention

The USPSTF recommends that children, adolescents, and young adults aged 10 to 24 years who have fair skin be counseled about minimizing their exposure to ultraviolet radiation to reduce their risk of developing skin cancer.11

Useful Resources

The Community Preventive Services Task Force has made a number of recommendations related to preventing skin cancer through the use of interventions that target child care centers; outdoor occupational, recreational, and tourism settings; primary and middle schools; and communities (available at link goes offsite. Click to read the external link disclaimer).

Prevention TaskForce

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