Partner Assistance in Learning and Performing Skin Self-Examination

Prevention Research Center image

Funder: NCI/NIH
Start Date: 2004

Skin cancer, the most common malignancy in the United States, is an important public health concern. Older age is associated with a higher risk of developing skin cancer; therefore, as the United States population of adults 65 and older increases by an estimated 20 percent in the next decade the incidence of skin cancer will increase. For those at risk to develop skin cancer, early detection by skin self-examination (SSE) is an effective strategy to decrease mortality and the physical and emotional burden of the disease.

This research project is a joint investigation between the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and The Pennsylvania State University, and will investigate whether married or cohabitating couples learn to and perform skin examination more effectively than solo learning by the person at risk to develop skin cancer. The effect of partner affiliation on dyadic learning is a novel area of research that is particularly relevant to early detection of skin cancer by SSE, which often requires the assistance of a partner to examine areas of the body that are difficult for the individual to see. The present study will examine two hundred participants at risk to develop skin cancer, who are between 50 and 70 years old and have partners, enrolled in a randomized trial with four month evaluation of SSE performance, by self –report responses, monthly diaries as body maps, and physician visits with diagnostic services. The effect on self-efficacy of performing SSE, knowledge of skin cancer and personal risk factors, attitude about the importance of skin cancer and performing SSE; is assessed by change in pre-test to post-test self-report responses.

In addition, it is hypothesized that differences in partner affiliation will moderate the dyadic learning and the effectiveness of the intervention to promote SSE. This research will investigate partner affiliation variables that contribute to SSE performance and assistance with skin examination. Once partner affiliation variables and barriers have been identified, strategies will be developed to assist others without a life partner to form SSE partnerships with family members or friends. The elderly are often affected by loss of life partners and comorbid diseases that impair function. By forming skin examination partnerships, family members may become aware of the personal risk that is conferred upon them by having a family member with skin cancer.


Robinson, J.K., Fisher, S. & Turrisi, R. (2002). Predictors of skin self-examination performance. Cancer, 95, 135-146.


Rob Turrisi photo

Rob Turrisi

Professor of Biobehavioral Health

June Robinson photo

June Robinson

Section Chief, Dermatology

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center