NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The percentage of adults who have ever had a thorough skin exam to look for signs of skin cancer is low -- with some of the lowest rates seen among those whose jobs keep them in the sun all day, a U.S. study shows.
Using data from two government health surveys of approximately 25,000 U.S. adults, researchers found that only 15 percent had ever had a full-body skin examination.
While such exams are not universally recommended for skin cancer screening, some medical organizations do support them. The American Cancer Society, for example, suggests that all adults age 20 or older have a periodic skin exam.
People with outdoor jobs may have a relatively higher risk of skin cancer because of their constant sun exposure. Yet in the current study, people in these occupations were among the least likely to have had a doctor examine their skin.
Only 7 percent of farmers and 8 percent of construction workers, for example, had ever had a thorough skin exam, the researchers report in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
In contrast, white-collar workers tended to have somewhat higher rates. Study participants in “health-diagnosing” occupations -- which includes doctors and nurses -- were the most likely to have had a skin exam. One third said they’d had one at some point.
Exactly why so few study participants had ever had a skin exam is not clear. But the findings point to lost opportunities to detect skin cancer early or prevent it altogether, according to the researchers, led by Dr. William G. LeBlanc of the University of Miami.
They note that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., with more than 1 million cases diagnosed each year. The most serious form of skin cancer -- melanoma -- is the least common, but its incidence has increased 15-fold since the 1930s.
According to LeBlanc’s team, public health officials and healthcare professionals should work together to provide community health fairs and worksite programs that offer skin cancer screening.
Such programs, they note, could also be used to encourage more Americans to see a primary care doctor for general check-ups.
SOURCE: Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, July 2008.