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Reasons why you may not get that full-body skin cancer exam from your doctor

January 17, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times
  • Spending copious time in the sun may warrant a full-body skin cancer exam
Spending copious time in the sun may warrant a full-body skin cancer exam (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Full-body skin cancer exams are essential for catching the disease, but a study finds that those tests may not always happen for a number of reasons.

The study, published Monday in the journal Archives of Dermatology, surveyed dermatologists, family practitioners and internists to find out how many regularly performed full-body skin assessments on patients. If the test didn't happen, they were asked what the obstacles were.

Among 1,669 doctors, dermatologists got the gold star for doing the most regular full-body exams: 81.3%. Family practitioners followed with 59.6%, and internists came in third with 56.4%.

Among all physicians, the top three impediments to doing the tests were time constraints, a competing illness, and patients being embarrassed or reluctant. More dermatologists sited patient embarrassment as the biggest barrier to a skin exam, compared with family practitioners and internists.

The reason, the study authors believe, could be that their patients could have more stigmatizing, visible skin disorders. Or, patients could simply not expect to disrobe if they're seeing a dermatologist for something such as wart. Physicians themselves could be reluctant to ask patients to undress for an exam. And, a patients' relationship with his or her dermatologist may not be as strong as it is with a primary care physician.

"To overcome this barrier," the authors wrote, "dermatologists could educate their patients about the role of the full-body skin examination in a routine visit by providing them with written material to read and establishing a comforting patient-physician relationship."

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