Background: Skin cancers are common and there has been a dramatic increase in their incidence, particularly melanoma. However, little is known about awareness of melanoma and early detection practices in the general U.S. population. Objective: In 1995, the American Academy of Dermatology increased their efforts to promote awareness of melanoma. This study was conducted to document current knowledge of melanoma and self-examination practices. Methods: In February 1995, a telephone survey was conducted in a nationally representative sample of 1001 persons at least 18 years of age (3% margin of error) that included questions on knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding early detection of melanoma. Results: Almost 42% of those surveyed were unaware of melanoma, and only 26% of those who were aware could identify its specific signs. Most recognized at least one common risk factor for melanoma (e.g., sun exposure, fair skin). However, many did not distinguish melanoma from other skin cancers in terms of risk factors, signs of early disease, and body site distribution. The lowest measures of melanoma knowledge and attitudes were found among those who are male, nonwhite, and parents, and those with the lowest level of education and income. More than half (54%) did not conduct a self-examination. This practice was most frequently reported by women, white persons, and the elderly, as well as those with a greater knowledge of melanoma. Conclusion: Our research documents deficiencies in knowledge and practices related to early detection of melanoma in the general U.S. population and supports the need for public education about melanoma.
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