A study looking at the skills people need to recognise melanoma skin cancer

Cancer type:

Skin cancer





This study looked at improving people’s ability to recognise melanoma skin cancer. It was supported by Cancer Research UK.

Public awareness campaigns to help people identify skin changes often use the ‘ABCD’ method. This stands for

  • Asymmetry - the 2 halves don’t look the same
  • Border irregularity – it is an irregular shape, or changing shape
  • Colour – it is getting darker or patchy
  • Diameter –  it is getting bigger

This method is used to help people decide whether they should go to the doctor to have skin changes looked at. But the researchers hoped they could find a better way to help people decide whether to go to the doctor.

In this study they tested a method using pictures on a computer. They hoped it would be more helpful and encourage people to see a doctor sooner.

The aim of this study was to see if using pictures is more useful to people than using the ABCD method to help them decide when to see a doctor.

Summary of results

The research team found that using pictures on a computer didn’t really help people identify changes that should be checked by a doctor.

This trial recruited 72 people who had not been diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer. They were put into 1 of 3 groups at random. Each group used a different method to help them identify skin changes that should be checked by a doctor.

  • Group 1 used their own knowledge
  • Group 2 used the ABC method (the research team didn’t include diameter because there was no scale on the test images)
  • Group 3 used a set of 42 pictures on the computer which included 21 melanomas and 21 non cancerous (benign) lesions

The research team then showed the people taking part 48 pictures of skin lesions, and they had to say whether they were melanoma or not.

When the research team looked at the results they found that none of the 3 groups identified melanomas very well. The people in group 2 did a little better than group 1, but the difference may have been due to chance (the results were not statistically significant Open a glossary item). The people in group 3 did a bit better again, but overall there was little improvement.

The team felt image training may work better if they had access to more images used in other studies. They think that people find it hard to identify melanomas because they can be so varied, and that some images are more useful than others.

The research team concluded that they couldn’t support the use image training or the ABCD method to help people decide when they need to go to the doctor. But they hope that using different images may help improve the image training method.

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Prof Jonathan Rees

Supported by

Cancer Research UK
University of Edinburgh

Other information

This is Cancer Research UK trial number CRUK/10/057.

You can read more on the study website.

Questions about cancer? Contact our information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 6059

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Around 1 in 5 people take part in clinical trials

3 phases of trials

Around 1 in 5 people diagnosed with cancer in the UK take part in a clinical trial.

Last reviewed:

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