Skin cancer education for primary care physicians: a systematic review of published evaluated interventions

J Gen Intern Med. 2011 Sep;26(9):1027-35. doi: 10.1007/s11606-011-1692-y. Epub 2011 Apr 7.


Background: Early detection of melanoma may provide an opportunity to positively impact melanoma mortality. Numerous skin cancer educational interventions have been developed for primary care physicians (PCPs) to improve diagnostic accuracy. Standardized training is also a prerequisite for formal testing of melanoma screening in the primary care setting.

Objective: We conducted a systematic review to determine the extent of evaluated interventions designed to educate PCPs about skin cancer, including melanoma.

Design: Relevant studies in the English language were identified through systemic searches performed in MEDLINE, EMBASE, BIOSIS, and Cochrane through December 2010. Supplementary information was obtained from corresponding authors of the included studies when necessary.

Approach: Studies eligible for inclusion formally evaluated skin cancer education interventions and were designed primarily for PCPs. Excluded studies lacked a specified training intervention, used decision-making software, focused solely on risk factor identification, or did not directly educate or assess participants. Twenty studies met the selection criteria. Data were extracted according to intervention content and delivery format, and study outcomes.

Key results: All interventions included instructions about skin cancer diagnosis, but otherwise varied in content. Curricula utilized six distinct educational techniques, usually incorporating more than one. Intervention duration varied from 12 min to over 6 h. Eight of the 20 studies were randomized trials. Most studies (18/20, 90%) found a significant improvement in at least one of the following five outcome categories: knowledge, competence, confidence, diagnostic performance, or systems outcomes. Competence was most commonly measured; no study evaluated all categories. Variability in study design, interventions, and outcome measures prevented correlation of outcomes with intervention characteristics.

Conclusions: Despite the development of many isolated educational interventions, few have been tested rigorously or evaluated under sufficient standardized conditions to allow for quantitative comparison. Improved and rigorously tested skin cancer educational interventions for PCPs with outcome measures focusing on changes in performance are needed.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Early Diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / diagnosis
  • Melanoma / prevention & control
  • Melanoma / therapy
  • Physicians, Primary Care / education*
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Primary Health Care / standards
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / methods
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / standards
  • Skin Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Skin Neoplasms / therapy*