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Despite skin cancer prevalence, screening studies lag behind

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S., and the Skin Cancer Foundation ranks Arizona third for melanoma incidence and second for melanoma deaths.

But the jury is still out on the risks and benefits of annual screenings for people without symptoms.

“After reviewing the research on screening for skin cancer and primary care, the taskforce found we don't have enough evidence to tell us whether or not screening people without symptoms is beneficial,” said Dr. Katrina Donohue of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).

The USPSTF makes recommendations using grades A-D, from “strongly for” to “strongly against.” But the independent panel of experts also issues I statements when not enough research exists to justify a grade.

Donohue says, as in 2016, asymptomatic skin cancer screening still falls into this category.

“An I statement is not a recommendation for or against; it's a call for more research,” she said.

Just-in-case screenings might seem harmless, but they can result in overdiagnoses, unnecessary procedures, potential complications, anxiety and financial burdens.

The team recommends focusing on limiting UV exposure from the sun and from tanning beds.

The USPSTF report also expresses the need for more research regarding skin cancer in Black people. Although melanoma is about 30 times more common in White people, it does occur in people with darker skin. When discovered, it is often at a later stage, when treatment is more difficult and less likely to be successful.

Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.