Clinical assessment of skin phototypes: watch your words!
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Fitzpatrick skin phototype classification is widely used to assess risk factors for skin cancers. This skin type evaluation is easy to use in clinical practice but is not always applied as initially described, nor practiced in a standardisedway. This can have implications on the results of relevant dermato-epidemiological studies.
To demonstrate, in a large multinational setting, that the phrasing of questions on sun sensitivity can have a strong impact on the perception and reporting of skin phototype, as well as the importance of a standardised procedure for phototype assessment.
Materials & methods
Using data collected from 48,258 screenees of the Euromelanoma campaign in six European countries from 2009 to 2011, we analysed the impact of change in the question phrasing on phototype classification in each country.
Changing the wording of a question to assess the phototype of a person also significantly influenced the classification of phototypes in different countries (p<0.001 for each country). The difference essentially corresponded to a shift towards a less sun-sensitive skin type when a shorter question that did not include skin colour description was used. The only exception was Portugal where phototype was not patient-assessed and classification shifted towards a more sun-sensitive phototype. Results were statistically significant and highly consistent, irrespective of gender.
The phrasing of questions on skin type is important and substantially influences reporting. A standardized procedure to classify phototypes should be used in order to obtain comparable data between studies.
Key wordsFitzpatrick skin phototype classification question phrasing sun sensitivity wording country standardised procedure
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