Couples, get naked for your health


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Remove your clothing, down to and including the unmentionables. Then lie on the bed, but don’t dim the lights. In fact, turn them up bright. Then sweetly coo to your significant other: ‘Honey, would you examine every part of me, especially the parts that I can’t see?’

No, it’s not a seduction. It’s a potentially life-saving medical exam. Couples who can leap this self-conscious hurdle, despite drooping body parts, love handles and cellulite, increase their chances of finding a new melanoma, according to a study in this month’s Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.


‘Melanoma can appear in places where the sun never shined,’ says Dr. June K. Robinson, dermatologist and lead author of the study. ‘There’s a fear of lying there naked and vulnerable when someone you care about is seeing you in not the most flattering light.’

But those who can get over the embarrassment are more likely to find new cancers early, before they spread. Unlike self-exams for breast or testicular cancers, which can be done alone, self-exams for skin cancer benefit from another pair of eyes peering at a backside or at the full globe of a balding head.

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine recruited 130 survivors of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. All the participants were married or had a life partner, but for half the group, only the patient was trained in skin self-examination. Participants in the second group learned the examination techniques with their partners.

In addition, all the couples were rated on a scale of 32 items that measure relationship satisfaction.

Couples who reported the strongest bonds, and were taught the exam together, were about three times more likely to do skin self-exams than melanoma survivors who did the exam alone. ‘A couple that is in sync is going to take this new experience and support and reassure each other and get over the modesty issue,’ says Robinson in a news release. ‘A couple that isn’t in sync ... are going to find it stressful and are going to start to fight. I’ve seen it happen in front of me.’

To avoid a second cancer, those couples who just can’t get naked together, the study suggests, might need to recruit a friend or relative to help with the exam. If that isn’t possible, melanoma survivors will need more frequent visits to the doctor for skin screenings.


Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, causes 8,000 deaths a year, and 62,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Finding it and treating it at earlier stages reduces deaths. This paper studied people who already survived one bout of melanoma. But those who have never had skin cancer -- and their supportive partners -- can see photographs and warning signs of suspicious moles at the Skin Cancer Foundation, so they’ll know what to look for in all the hidden places.

--Susan Brink

Photo: sara.atkins (via Flickr, Creative Commons license)