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Skin cancer images help people check skin more often and effectively

skin pointIf I told you that people are more inclined to look for something when they've actually seen what they're looking for, you probably wouldn't be that surprised. Yet, this is important information for medical professionals who want to motivate their patients to examine their own skin for signs of cancer. In new research, people who were shown images of skin cancer were more likely to examine their skin than people who'd only read about it.

Graduate student Jennifer E. McWhirter, BSc, and professor Laurie Hoffman-Goetz, PhD, MPH, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, wanted to know if text and photographic instructions were equally effective ways to prompt patients to check their own skin for  cancer. To test this, they culled through 5,330 peer-reviewed studies to find research projects that used photos as part of their educational materials on skin self-examinations. The results of their study (subscription required) appeared recently in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

The researchers found that patients who were shown images of skin cancer examined their skin more often, and were more adept at spotting suspicious-looking skin than patients who'd only read text descriptions of the how to check for skin cancer. Hoffman-Gotez explains why this might be, and the significance of the findings, in a university press release:

Visual images capture our attention and are persuasive. They also help us to learn and remember... Incorporating images into clinical practice when educating patients can be a powerful tool in the fight against skin cancer.

Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school's Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.

Previously: Working to protect athletes from sun dangersStanford clinic addresses cancer-related skin issuesAs summer heats up take steps to protect your skinMan's story shows how cancer screenings saves livesNew research shows aspirin may cut melanoma riskNew skin cancer target identified by Stanford researchers and More evidence on the link between indoor tanning and cancers
Photo U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs

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