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USPSTF releases updated recommendations on skin cancer screening


In an update to its 2016 recommendations for skin cancer screening, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has once again determined that there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against screening with a visual skin exam in adolescents and adults without symptoms.

This final recommendation applies to the general public and is not meant for those at higher risk, such as people with a family history of skin cancer or who have any signs or symptoms, such as irregular moles.

“The new recommendations are consistent with those from 2016, and we are unable to balance benefits and harms,” said Task Force member Katrina Donahue, MD, MPH, professor and vice chair of research in the department of family medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “Unfortunately, there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against screening, and health care professionals should use their judgment when deciding whether or not to screen.”

Dr. Donahue told this news organization that this is a call for more research: “Our recommendations are for patients who present to primary care without symptoms, and after a careful assessment of benefit and harms, we didn’t have evidence to push us towards screening as a benefit. We did look at data from two large screening programs, but they were from Europe and not representative of the U.S. population. They also did not show a benefit for reducing melanoma-related mortality.”

The USPSTF final recommendation statement and corresponding evidence summary have been published online in JAMA, as well as on the USPSTF website.

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, but there are different types that vary in their incidence and severity. Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are the most common types of skin cancer, but they infrequently lead to death or substantial morbidity, notes the USPTSF. Melanomas represent about 1% of skin cancer and cause the most skin cancer deaths. An estimated 8,000 individuals in the United States will die of melanoma in 2023.

There are racial differences in melanoma incidence; it is about 30 times more common in White versus Black persons, but disease in persons with darker skin color tends to be diagnosed at a later stage. These disparities may be due to differences in risk factors, access to care, and clinical presentation.

In an accompanying editorial, Maryam M. Asgari, MD, MPH, of the department of dermatology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and Lori A. Crane, PhD, MPH, of the Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado, Aurora, point out that people with darker skin phenotypes also tend to be affected by skin cancers that are not associated with UV radiation, such as acral melanoma, which arises on the palms and soles, and skin cancers that arise in areas of chronic inflammation, such as wounds.

Dr. Maryam M. Asgari, professor of dermatology, Harvard Medical School; Massachusetts General Hospital department of dermatology, Boston

Dr. Maryam M. Asgari

Thus, differences in anatomical distribution of skin cancers in in the various subpopulations needs to be considered when performing skin screening, they write. “Furthermore, while skin cancer risk is lower among people with darker skin pigmentation, survival is often worse for cancers like melanoma, highlighting the potential need for screening.”

“More data are needed, particularly regarding genetic and environmental risk factors for skin cancer in people with darker pigmentation, to help inform guidelines that can be broadly applied to the U.S. population,” add Dr. Asgari and Dr. Crane. “The diversity of the U.S. population extends also to geography, culture, and socioeconomic status, all of which affect skin cancer risk.”


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