Melanoma Tattoos Help Doctors Develop Empathy in Cancer Diagnosis

It is imperative to be empathetic when giving a patient their cancer diagnosis and throughout treatment. A collaborative study produced by the University of Huddersfield, Queen’s University Belfast and University College Dublin has enabled medical students to experience some of the challenges faced by people living with skin cancer to help them develop greater empathy for their patients.

Published in the British Journal of Dermatology, the study explores how temporary skin tattoos might influence a medical student’s personal understanding of a malignant melanoma diagnosis.

Students from Queen’s University Belfast were encouraged to wear a highly realistic temporary tattoo of a malignant melanoma for 24 hours. They then heard an audio account from patients sharing their experiences of receiving a skin cancer diagnosis. After learning about the realities of living with skin cancer, the students recorded their own experiences and took part in in-depth interviews with experts.

Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70 – a diagnosis that can be daunting for patients and their families. The relatively inexpensive simulation encouraged medical students to consider the person behind the illness.

The temporary tattoo provides a profound experience, according to the study’s authors, because it serves as a physical, standout reminder that the person has cancer. It can attract unwanted attention from strangers and leave patients feeling self-conscious.

The authors acknowledged that nothing can fully simulate the emotional impact of receiving a cancer diagnosis, but are confident that this novel approach will help doctors understand what it feels like to have a visible skin disease. They now hope to repeat the study with other groups such as nursing students.



University of Huddersfield. (September 26, 2017.) Doctors gain a greater understanding of skin cancer using tattoos: Researchers evaluate the effects on the medical students who took part in the study. ScienceDaily.

Learn more about skin cancer medicine in primary care at the next Skin Cancer Certificate Courses:

Skin Cancer Certificate Courses in Australia


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