Routine primary care screening improves detection of melanomas

Primary care screening can help patients avoid the need for more aggressive therapy and potentially save lives.
Primary care screening can help patients avoid the need for more aggressive therapy and potentially save lives.

Skin cancer screenings performed during routine office visits can improve the detection of potentially deadly melanomas, according to research presented at the 52nd annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

Laura Ferris, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and colleagues conducted the study in which participating primary care clinicians completed training of melanoma recognition and were asked to offer annual screening to all patients 35 years and older. In 2014, the first year of the program, 15% of 333,788 eligible patients were screened.

Melanomas detected by these primary care clinicians were nearly twice as thin as melanomas detected in the group not screened by a primary care clinician. Five percent of patients in the screening group had melanomas that were thicker than 1 millimeter; those melanomas are more likely to metastasize and require a biopsy of a nearby lymph node. In the unscreened group, 20% of patients had this type of melanoma.

“The primary care clinician screenings prevented a lot of people from needing more aggressive therapy,” concluded Dr Ferris. “Additionally, we did not see a high rate of false positive biopsies, in which no skin cancer was present, nor did we see a high rate of unnecessary dermatology referrals or skin surgeries, all of which suggest that the program did not simply drive up healthcare costs needlessly.”

Reference

  1. Early detection, smaller cancer among benefits of skin cancer screening at primary care visits [news release]. Research presented at: 52nd annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting; June 3-7, 2015; Chicago, Ill. 
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