I’m not a worrier—usually—but I think it makes sense to be concerned about skin cancer. Like a lot of people, I spent a great deal of time in my teen years basking in the sun, and now I’ve reached the age when the odds increase that I’ll pay a price for having worked so hard on my tan. I’m interested in anything and everything that reduces the likelihood of getting skin cancer—and this study, so practical and easily applicable, does exactly that.

Melanoma, in case you didn’t know, is a fairly rare form of skin cancer, but it accounts for the majority of skin-cancer related deaths. The World Health Organization reports there are nearly 48,000 deaths per year worldwide from malignant melanoma. Though we know we ought to examine ourselves for suspicious moles, it’s not possible to see many areas of our body by ourselves. That’s where this new research, from June Robinson, MD, professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago and an expert in the primary prevention of skin cancer, is useful.


Prompted by a patient exam in which a husband invited his wife into the room to hear and be educated by the doctor, Dr. Robinson and her team of researchers studied the power of togetherness in screening for skin cancer. Of the 130 couples that participated, half were trained together in detection of and examination for skin cancer, and half had only the patient being trained. “We found that people who were educated with their partners were twice as likely to do them as those who were educated alone,” Dr. Robinson told me.

Patients (and partners) were trained to use the identification method known as “ABCDE”:

Asymmetry of shape

Border irregularity

Color variety

Diameter greater or equal to 6 mm

Evolution of the lesion

As Dr. Robinson explained, “any mole on your body is likely to have at least one of those features—but if three or more are present, or if one feature of a mole changes rapidly—say in one month—you should get it checked out by a professional.”

With self-examination being a critical factor in detection of skin cancer, Dr. Robinson’s strategy provides more and better skin exams in the comfort of your home with someone you love and trust. Dr. Robinson recalled one patient who was particularly pleased with his partner-assisted exams: “He’d been frustrated because he hadn’t been able to check the bald spot on the back of his head!”