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Mapping Helps Clients Beat Skin Cancer

Simply asking patients to map their moles on a drawing of their back after a monthly skin self-exam is an easy, low-cost way of reducing melanoma deaths, researchers report.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It has a 95 percent survival rate if it's detected early but only a 16 percent survival rate if it's detected after it has begun to spread.

One of the best methods of detecting melanoma and other skin cancers is for patients to conduct monthly skin self-exams. However, it can be difficult for patients to accurately examine their skin without a method of remembering the location and size of existing moles, the study noted.

"Most melanomas are discovered by patients. So, we looked for a way to improve the accuracy of skin self-exams. Conducting the skin self-exam with the help of a diagram showing the location of moles, scars and other marks on the skin can help a person more easily notice any changes or new lesions, which are important warning signs for melanoma," study co-author Dr. Martin A. Weinstock, of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Providence, R.I., said in a prepared statement.

The study, published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, included 88 people who were educated about skin cancer and skin self-examination. The researchers took digital photos of the patients' upper and lower backs and instructed the patients to perform a self-exam before their next visit.

The patients were randomly selected to receive either a blank piece of paper (46 patients) or a "mole-mapping diagram" (42 patients). Those who received the diagram were told to draw their moles on it before their return appointment.

Between the patients' initial and return visits, the researchers randomly altered the photographs of the patients' backs, adding the image of a lesion. On their return visit, the patients were asked to indicate any changes on their photos.

Of the patients who received the mole-mapping diagrams, more than half were able to identify the changes made to their photos.

"The results suggest that asking the participants to create a mole-mapping diagram may improve the accuracy of skin self-exam, particularly identifying a new lesion," Weinstock said.

HealthDay News, 7/20/06

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