This Valentine's Day, show your love by performing a mutual skin exam with your partner. Skin self-examination is not only an important tool in the early detection of skin cancers, but people in healthy relationships perform better exams, a new study reports.
According to researchers led by June Robinson, MD, of Northwestern University in Chicago, couples with close bonds were about three times more likely to perform skin exams than those who didn't report strong bonds — and the benefits of performing a skin exam with a spouse or partner increase when the quality of the relationship is high. Robinson's team taught both individuals and couples at high risk of skin cancer to perform self-exams to detect skin cancer. Their findings were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. The researchers found that couples in close, supportive (or high-quality) relationships are more apt to overcome the self consciousness associated with being naked in order to perform successful skin exams. On the other hand, those who reported relationships of "below average" quality were least likely to perform routine skin self-exams. The study builds on earlier research by Robinson: In 2007 she reported that melanoma survivors who perform skin exams with their partners tend to do so more scrupulously than people who perform skin self-exams alone.
Other studies have shown that patients themselves detect about half of all melanomas, and that proper performance of self skin-examinations may reduce the chances of dying of this potentially deadly disease by as much as 63 percent. These are more excellent reasons to celebrate Valentine's Day with a skin self-exam, since having a partner can make it easier to remember to examine the skin regularly and to check areas such as the scalp and back, which are difficult to see alone.
While self-exams shouldn't replace the important annual skin exam performed by a physician, they offer the best chance of detecting the early warning signs of melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, the three most common skin cancers. If you notice any change in an existing mole or discover a new one that looks suspicious, see a physician immediately.
So celebrate your healthy relationship with a mutual skin exam — the better the relationship, the better the exam.