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Visual screening for skin cancer

New Mexico residents may be particularly prone to increased exposure to the sun during the hot summer months, and concerns over skin cancer risks can be heightened in the state. Although the National Cancer Institute notes that most skin cancers are not life-threatening, it estimates that there will be nearly 10,000 deaths in 2015 throughout the nation because of melanoma. In spite of these risks, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force does not routinely recommend visual screening for skin cancer in adults who are asymptomatic.

The USPSTF discovered during its investigation that visual screening can result in misdiagnosis, excessive diagnosis, and potentially negative consequences from a cosmetic perspective. Scarring is the most common cosmetic issue that can result from acting on the results of a visual examination, but in extreme cases, functional problems can also occur. Self-examination was not considered during the study in question.

One of the most important recommendations for protecting against skin cancer, especially melanoma, is limiting one's exposure to ultraviolet rays. Ideally, an individual should avoid direct exposure to sunlight, particularly during the early afternoon hours. Additionally, experts emphasize the importance of avoiding unnecessary exposure through indoor tanning.

The task force recommends that those concerned with potential risks of skin cancer discuss these issues with their doctors. Further, it is helpful to remember that a national recommendation doesn't mean that a doctor can't do a visual inspection to identify suspicious locations on the skin. It may be helpful to work together with one's physician to determine whether such an inspection is warranted.

A failure to detect skin cancer might result in a poor outcome, but this does not necessarily imply negligence on the part of a medical professional. However, a patient whose doctor has refused to follow through on concerns about an unusual spot on the skin might want to speak with a medical maplractice attorney to see if such refusal constituted a failure to exhibit the requisite standard of care.

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