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J Am Acad Dermatol. 2000 Aug;43(2 Pt 1):234-7.

Skin examinations and skin cancer prevention counseling by US physicians: a long way to go.

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  • 1Westwood-Squibb Center for Dermatology Research and the Departments of Dermatology and Pathology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, USA.



Nonmelanoma skin cancer and actinic keratoses may be partially preventable by physician counseling.


The purpose of this study was to assess the frequency of counseling for skin cancer prevention.


Data on skin cancer counseling and skin examinations were obtained from representative visits to outpatient physicians in the United States from the 1997 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. A limitation of the skin examination data is that the extent of the skin examination was not reported.


Skin examinations occurred in 60 million (8.6%) of 703 million office visits, and skin cancer prevention counseling or education occurred in 12 million visits (1.5%). For patients younger than 20 years, such prevention counseling occurred in only 1.0% of 169 million visits. For those patients with a current or previous history of nonmelanoma or melanoma skin cancer or actinic keratosis (high-risk patients) identified by the treating physician, 2.8 million (35%) of 7.9 million patients received such counseling. In high-risk patients, dermatologists provided such counseling at 41% of visits, compared with 24% for general and family practice, 9.3% for otolaryngology, 13% for general surgery, and 7.7% for internal medicine. In such high-risk patients, skin examinations were performed at 78% of dermatology visits, 69% of otolarynogolgy visits, 36% of general surgery visits, and 27% of family physician visits. Capitation did not lead to greater primary preventive practices; skin cancer prevention counseling occurred in 4% of high-risk capitated patients compared with 38% of noncapitated patients.


Physicians provide skin cancer prevention counseling or education at fewer than half of visits for high-risk patients. High-risk patients are likely to receive skin cancer prevention messages depending on the specialty of physician that they visit in roughly the following scheme: dermatologists>family physicians>all other specialties. Economic restraints within managed care systems may affect their "health maintenance" function.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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