Screening for skin cancer: an update of the evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

Ann Intern Med. 2009 Feb 3;150(3):194-8. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-150-3-200902030-00009.


Background: Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. The majority of skin cancer is nonmelanoma cancer, either basal cell cancer or squamous cell cancer. The incidence of both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer has been increasing over the past 3 decades. In 2001, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) found insufficient evidence to recommend for or against routine screening for skin cancer by using whole-body skin examination for early detection of skin cancer.

Purpose: To update the evidence of benefits and harms of screening for skin cancer in the general population.

Data sources: MEDLINE and Cochrane Library searches from 1 June 1999 to 9 August 2005 for English-language articles; recent systematic reviews; reference lists of retrieved articles; and expert suggestions.

Study selection: English-language studies were selected to answer the following key question: Does screening in asymptomatic persons with whole-body examination by a primary care clinician or by self-examination reduce morbidity and mortality from skin cancer? Randomized, controlled trials and case-control studies of screening for skin cancer were selected. One author selected English-language studies to answer the following contextual questions: Can screening with whole-body examination by primary care clinicians or by self-examination accurately detect skin cancer? Does screening with whole-body examination or by self-examination detect melanomas at an earlier stage (thinner lesions)?

Data extraction: All studies for the key question were reviewed, abstracted, and rated for quality by using predefined USPSTF criteria.

Data synthesis: No new evidence from controlled studies was found that addressed the benefit of screening for skin cancer with a whole-body examination by a physician. One article of fair quality, which reanalyzed data from a 1996 study identified for the 2001 report for the USPSTF, provides limited but insufficient evidence on the benefit of skin self-examination in the reduction of morbidity and mortality from melanoma.

Limitations: Direct evidence linking skin cancer screening to improved health outcomes is lacking. Information is limited on the accuracy of screening by physicians or patients using real patients and lesions.

Conclusion: The limited evidence prevents accurate estimation of the benefits of screening for skin cancer in the general primary care population.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomedical Research
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Risk Assessment
  • Self-Examination
  • Skin Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Skin Neoplasms / therapy