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Patients failing at melanoma self-checks: Study


Michelle Wisbey


4/07/2024 5:00:33 PM

GPs continue to play a lifesaving role in cancer diagnosis, as research finds patients cannot diagnose malignant melanomas on their own skin.

Doctor checking a patient for skin cancer.
Skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers in Australia each year.

Well-meaning patients are putting their lives at risk, with a new study finding most people are unable to self-diagnose skin cancer on their own bodies.
 
The Australian research, published on Thursday in J-Peer, found only a small number of participants could self-identify either in situ or invasive malignant melanomas (MMs) as a lesion of concern.
 
Unfortunately, of those patients who were able to identify MM, the lesion was usually thicker and more advanced.
 
For the study, of the 260 participants whose suspected MM lesions were biopsied, just 31.9% were found to be melanomas.
 
Of the malignant melanomas, 21.7% of participants correctly had concerns about the suspect lesion being a MM, with these mostly located on a person’s back, shoulder, and upper leg.
 
Associate Professor Michael Stapelberg, a GP with a special interest in dermatology based on the Gold Coast, described the findings as ‘sobering’.
 
‘Based on my experience with patients contributing to this data here on the Gold Coast, many were unaware they had skin cancer,’ he said.
 
‘Interestingly, most of these patients had few risk factors for melanoma, yet still had a melanoma that they were completely unaware of detected during their skin check.
 
‘The detected melanomas were generally small in size, which could make self-detection even more challenging for these individuals.’
 
The study comes as skin cancers continue to account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers in Australia each year, with these rates 2–3 times higher than those in Canada, the US, and the UK.
 
Associate Professor Stapelberg said the study’s findings emphasise the importance of GPs and their role in skin cancer detection.
 
‘What would happen to these individuals if they were guided to not opportunistically present for a skin check, because they should be able to detect their own melanoma?’ he queried.
 
Given this knowledge gap, the study is now calling on GPs to remind their patients, especially those who spend extended time outdoors, to undergo skin checks at their doctor’s discretion.
 
The RACGP’s newly updated Guidelines for preventive activities in general practice (Red Book) contains resources on skin cancer.
 
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