Pandemic fears cause melanoma diagnoses to fall by more than a quarter

Melanoma diagnoses fell 28% from April to November 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic, or the equivalent of 2,671 cases that were not picked up, compared to the previous year, latest research has suggested.

The finding feeds into concerns around missed cancer diagnoses generally during the pandemic, as people stayed away from getting symptoms checked out, either from fear of catching Covid-19 or because of not wanting to ‘bother’ their GP or hospital, but with the consequence that this could be storing up serious problems for the future.

The data has come from the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service and is due to be published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

According to the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), which highlighted the findings, melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, causing around 2,300 deaths every year. Projections, based on case numbers from previous years, indicate that incidence rates should have increased in 2020.

Last week (3-9 May) was “Sun Awareness Week” and May is Melanoma Awareness Month. The BAD warned that the equivalent month last year saw a steep drop in melanoma diagnoses, with just 54% of the expected number of diagnoses for the month. In June last year this figure rose to 64%, and in August it was 69%, said the BAD.

Dr Zoe Venables, dermatology consultant at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and dermatology clinical lead at the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service, said:
“We are becoming increasingly aware that the Covid-19 pandemic has effects far beyond those immediately infected by the virus.

“Undoubtedly, fewer cancer diagnoses are being made during the pandemic and it is of grave concern that this represents patients who are likely to present later, resulting in worse outcomes. We strongly encourage the public to do routine body checks including a full body skin check and attend their GP should they have any concerns.”

Dr Bav Shergill, chair of the BAD’s Skin Cancer Prevention Committee, added: “These missing cases will turn up eventually, sadly for the people concerned, the cancer will be more advanced, which will worsen their prognosis, and result in more complicated and costly treatment.”

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