Letter to the editor: Physician offers alternatives to skin cancer screenings

July 1, 2008

Dr. Norman Levine (Commentary, May 2008) should be applauded for his bravery in publicly questioning the relative value of skin cancer screening events.

Key Points

Dear Editor:

Dr. Norman Levine (Commentary, May 2008) should be applauded for his bravery in publicly questioning the relative value of skin cancer screening events.

We're kidding ourselves if we think that screening (the way it's usually conducted) will make more than a small difference in the skin cancer problem. Even if these events are really more about burnishing our collective image and increasing referrals, my suggestion to shift the focus toward prevention and self-awareness would have at least the same result, or perhaps better.

In an ideal world, there would be enough volunteers and sufficient time at these affairs to provide both screening and education. In reality, education usually gets short shrift.

As dermatologists' participation in screenings has waned, perhaps a new and different campaign aimed more toward educating people would generate renewed interest because of its greater potential benefit. In the simplest version, attendees could be invited to a session called "Meet with a dermatologist about skin cancer and sun safety."

Compared to a screening, there would be minimal set-up costs and hassles. The dermatologist could provide advice, encouragement, handouts - and a referral if indicated - that are tailored to the specific needs of the attendee. So long as education is the primary focus, lesion-specific or even complete skin examination could be offered as well.

Compared to the gains from physical screening, that which would be gained by the attendee - namely, recognizing the signs of skin cancer and knowing how to prevent it - could be disseminated beyond the event to family and friends. Our free gift of education would keep on giving indefinitely, and has much greater potential to significantly impact the skin cancer epidemic.