Patients who checked their skin for signs of malignancy between one and 11 times a year and saw their doctor if concerned had a 48% lower risk of melanoma.
Patients who did this were also twice as likely to spot melanoma themselves. Occasional checks reduced the risk of developing deeper tumours by 61%.
Researchers said the ability of patients to self-detect melanomas and their precursors could boost early intervention and prevention.
They examined data from 423 cases of skin cancer matched to 678 controls.
Patients were asked how often they examined their skin for abnormal signs. These findings were then compared with diagnoses of melanoma, including tumour depth.
The researchers said: 'Melanoma risk was markedly reduced for those combining skin self-examination with a doctor visit, but it remains uncertain whether this finding reflects removal of self-detected, high-risk lesions among controls, or possibly bias or confounding by other preventive behaviours.'
They added: 'Further research is needed to enhance the potential benefit of skin self-examination in melanoma prevention and to elucidate early detection.'
Titus LJ, Clough-Gorr K, Mackenzie TA et al. Br J Dermatol 168; 571-6