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Background

There is a paucity of data regarding patient perceptions of nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC).

Objective

To describe patients' perceptions of skin lesions before a diagnosis of NMSC.

Methods

This was a descriptive study in a private practice setting. Patients with a previous biopsy of NMSC who presented for treatment were eligible. A self-administered questionnaire assessed what patient perceptions of lesions diagnosed as NMSCs had been before they were aware of the diagnosis. Medical records were reviewed for tumor type, size, and location.

Results

One hundred sixty-three consecutive patients undergoing treatment for NMSC completed the questionnaire. The most common initial impressions of the lesion were skin cancer (20%), acne (19%), sore (10%), unknown (9%), dry skin (7%), age spot (6%), and injury (6%). Seventy-two percent of patients were the first to notice the lesion. Patients with a history of skin cancer were more likely to think the lesion was a skin cancer on initial impression (28% vs 8%) (< .001).

Conclusions

Understanding how patients perceive their skin cancers may aid in targeting educational strategies and increase awareness of skin cancer risk. Our data suggest that there are important subtleties in self-identification that may need to be taken into consideration in any educational campaign targeting NMSC.