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Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2009 Nov;18(11):3018-23. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-09-0310. Epub 2009 Oct 27.

Efficacy of skin self-examination practices for early melanoma detection.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology, Pigmented Lesion and Melanoma Program, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94063, USA.


Although skin self-examination (SSE) may increase rates of early melanoma detection, the efficacy of different SSE practices has not been thoroughly studied. We examined associations between SSE practices and tumor thickness in patients with recently diagnosed melanoma.


321 melanoma patients at three hospitals completed questionnaires on demographics and SSE practices. Patient-reported SSE was measured by routine examination of 13 specific body areas, frequency of mole examination, and use of a melanoma picture aid to assist with SSE. Histologic diagnoses and Breslow depth were confirmed by dermatopathologists. Regression analyses were used to calculate ratios of geometric mean tumor thickness and odds ratios for having thicker versus thinner tumors for different SSE behaviors.


Rates of SSE varied considerably by SSE item. Patients routinely examining at least some of their skin had thinner melanomas [adjusted geometric mean tumor ratio, 0.73; 95% confidence interval (95% CI), 0.50-0.94]. Frequency of mole examination did not predict tumor thickness. Using a melanoma picture as a SSE aid was strongly associated with reduced tumor thickness (adjusted ratio, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.66-0.85 for ever versus never use). A composite measure of thoroughness of SSE was the best predictor of thickness (adjusted ratio, 0.58; 95% CI, 0.36-0.75) for high versus low thoroughness.


SSE was associated with decreased tumor thickness by most measures. However, the diverse rates of SSE practices and the distinct associations between these practices and melanoma thickness suggest a complexity in SSE that should be addressed in future studies. SSE should be evaluated by more than one measure.

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