SkinCancerNet Article
Detection of Suspicious Lesion Improves with Family's Help

Studies indicate that enlisting a family member to assist with self-examination of the skin may help detect skin cancer in its earliest and most treatable form. Here is what scientific studies have found:

  • An Australian study of 513 melanoma patients and 498 controls (persons without melanoma) published in 2000 found that when people counted their own moles, the number of both common and atypical moles tended to be substantially underestimated.1

  • A study found that wives were more likely to self-detect suspicious lesions than were their husbands and were more accurate than husbands in detecting melanoma on the skin of a spouse.2

  • A study of high-risk patients found that 25% were unable to detect an obvious increase in the size of an existing nevus (mole), and 38% incorrectly identified a change where no change occurred.3

Another benefit that comes from enlisting the help of a family member or close friend is that person’s ability to spot a suspicious lesion that might not be seen by self-examination, such as one on the back, under the hairline, or at the nape of the neck. Additionally, when a family member or close friend helps, the person being examined is more likely to acknowledge that a lesion looks suspicious. If a suspicious lesion is spotted, a follow-up visit to a dermatologist is more likely to occur with prompting from a family member or close friend.

Anyone who is helping with a skin examination should know the ABCDs of Melanoma Detection:

Asymmetry – Does one half of a mole look different from the other?

Border Irregularity – Is the edge (border) of the mole ragged, notched or blurred?

Color – Does the mole have variety of hues and colors within the same lesion?

Diameter – What is the size of the mole? While melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser) in diameter when diagnosed, they can be smaller. If you notice a mole different from others, or which changes, itches, or bleeds even if it is smaller than 6 millimeters, you should see a dermatologist.

If you or a family member spots a suspicious lesion, be sure to see a dermatologist.

For persons with increased risk for developing skin cancer, regular examinations by a dermatologist are recommended. Factors that increase one’s risk include family history of melanoma, presence of atypical moles or a large number of moles, and white skin that burns or freckles rather than tans.


1 Buettner PG, et al. Agreement between self-assessment of melanocytic nevi by patients and
  dermatologic examination. Am J Epidemiol. 2000 Jan 1;151(1):72-7.

2 Brady MS, et al. Patterns of detection in patients with cutaneous melanoma. Cancer. 2000 July

3 Muhn CY, et al. Detection of artificial changes in mole size by skin self-examination. J Am Acad
  Dermatol. 2000 May;42(5 Pt 1):754-9.

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