Skin Cancer Screening: Updated Evidence Report and Systematic Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force

JAMA. 2023 Apr 18;329(15):1296-1307. doi: 10.1001/jama.2023.3262.


Importance: Skin cancer is the most common cancer type and is a major cause of morbidity.

Objective: To systematically review the benefits and harms of screening for skin cancer to inform the US Preventive Services Task Force.

Data sources: MEDLINE, Embase, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials from June 1, 2015, through January 7, 2022; surveillance through December 16, 2022.

Study selection: English-language studies conducted in asymptomatic populations 15 years or older.

Data extraction and synthesis: Two reviewers independently appraised the articles and extracted relevant data from fair- or good-quality studies; results were narratively summarized.

Main outcomes and measures: Morbidity; mortality; skin cancer stage, precursor lesions, or lesion thickness at detection; harms of screening.

Results: Twenty studies in 29 articles were included (N = 6 053 411). Direct evidence on screening effectiveness was from 3 nonrandomized analyses of 2 population-based skin cancer screening programs in Germany (n = 1 791 615) and suggested no melanoma mortality benefit at the population level over 4 to 10 years' follow-up. Six studies (n = 2 935 513) provided inconsistent evidence on the association between clinician skin examination and lesion thickness or stage at diagnosis. Compared with usual care, routine clinician skin examination was not associated with increased detection of skin cancer or precursor lesions (5 studies) or stage at melanoma detection (3 studies). Evidence on the association between clinician skin examination and lesion thickness at detection was inconsistent (3 studies). Nine studies (n = 1 326 051) found a consistent positive association between more advanced stage at melanoma detection and increasing risk of melanoma-associated and all-cause mortality. Two studies (n = 232) found little to no persistent cosmetic or psychosocial harms associated with screening.

Conclusions and relevance: A substantial nonrandomized evidence base suggests a clear association between earlier stage at skin cancer detection and decreased mortality risk. However, nonrandomized studies suggest little to no melanoma mortality benefit associated with skin cancer screening with visual skin examination in adolescents or adults and no association between routine clinician skin examination and earlier stage at melanoma detection. Evidence is inconsistent regarding whether clinician skin examination is associated with thinner melanoma lesions at detection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Early Detection of Cancer* / adverse effects
  • Early Detection of Cancer* / methods
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / adverse effects
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Melanoma* / diagnosis
  • Physical Examination / adverse effects
  • Physical Examination / methods
  • Skin Neoplasms* / diagnosis