Doctor Visits Increase When People See Skin Cancer Pictures
August 2, 2013

Doctor Visits Increase When People See Skin Cancer Pictures

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

A picture is worth a thousand words, but is it worth a visit to the doctor? A new study from the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo suggests seeing pictures of skin cancer does motivate people to regularly check their own moles.

The research team found visual images of skin cancer are very effective in prompting self-exams. The findings of their study were published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD).

"Visual images capture our attention and are persuasive. They also help us to learn and remember," said Professor Laurie Hoffman-Goetz, of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences.

Hoffman-Goetz and her team performed a systematic review, finding exposure to images of skin cancer motivated people to check their skin more frequently and with greater accuracy. Providing text descriptions alone, according to the study, was not effective in aiding skin self-examination. "Images motivate health behaviors in ways text does not," said Jennifer McWhirter, a PhD candidate funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The researchers believe their findings could help inform patient education strategies in the future, as well as public health communication efforts.

"Skin self-examination plays an important role in detecting melanoma early. Many cases of melanoma are first detected by patients themselves," said McWhirter.

"Incorporating images into clinical practice when educating patients can be a powerful tool in the fight against skin cancer." added Professor Hoffman-Goetz.

The findings are significant because skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in North America. In Canada alone this year, there are expected to be 6,000 new cases of melanoma -- the most dangerous kind of skin cancer -- and more than 81,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer.