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Concern growing over drastic fall in skin cancer diagnoses during Covid-19

According to data from the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS) in the U.K., the number of melanoma diagnoses decreased 28% from April to Nov. 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. The data reveal there were an estimated 2,671 fewer melanoma diagnoses than expected during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The NCRAS data was published online ahead of print in the British Journal of Dermatology (May 3, 2021).  

The British Association of Dermatologists’ Skin Cancer Prevention Committee said that the drop in skin cancer diagnoses is due to a reduced number of patients seeing their doctor about potential skin cancers during the pandemic. 

“This is another tragic side effect of the pandemic and is of massive concern to us. 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,” said Dr. Bav Shergill, in a press release.

Dr. Shergill is chair of the British Association of Dermatologists’ Skin Cancer Prevention Committee.

“We are highlighting these figures during [melanoma awareness month] to open a dialogue with the public on how important it is to frequently check your skin for signs of cancer,” he added. “If you have been putting off going to see your doctor about changes to your skin due to the pandemic, please book in an appointment as soon as you can.”  

Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the U.K., resulting in an estimated 2,300 deaths each year, according to the NCRAS data. The British Association of Dermatologists’ Skin Cancer Prevention Committee notes that based on the number of melanoma cases from previous years, incidence rates should have increased in 2020. 

Last May saw the largest drop in melanoma cases with only 54% of the expected number of diagnoses for the month. May is melanoma awareness month in the U.K. and Canada. In June 2020, the number rose to 64% of the expected diagnoses and in August it was 69%.

Estimates from the British Association of Dermatologists’ Skin Cancer Prevention Committee suggest there was a large drop in the number of keratinocyte cancers diagnosed. The number of basal cell carcinomas and cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas biopsied in April 2020 was just 22% and 58%, respectively, compared to April 2019.

“We are becoming increasingly aware that the Covid-19 pandemic has effects far beyond those immediately infected by the virus,” said Dr. Zoe Venables, in the release. Dr. Venables is a dermatology consultant at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in Norwich, England and the Dermatology Clinical Lead at the NCRAS.

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.”

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