Skin Cancer is the most frequent type of cancer in the UK, but of the 100,000+ cases only ten percent will be the most deadly kind – melanoma – and of those affected only around 2,000 will die. If detected early melanoma has a good prognosis and the British Association of Dermatologists has been working to educate the public on the importance of early detection for some years. In research due to be released at the British Association of Dermatologists’ Annual Conference in Birmingham this week (July 3rd to 5th), the question is raised as to whether there are effective screening tools for those most at risk.
In a UK study based at King’s College Hospital in London a group of researchers investigated whether the two week wait system could be considered as a type of ‘filtered screening’ for skin cancer.1
The 2-week wait (2ww) referral was introduced by the New Labour government in 2000 to tackle the problem of patients with symptoms indicative of cancer who waited too long to be seen and treated in secondary care. Unlike other cancers there is no reliable ‘screening test’ for skin cancer at the disposal of the general practitioner (GP), and therefore the researchers suggest that the two-week-wait system could be viewed as ‘filtered screening’.
Taking this as a starting point the group studied local GP referrals under the two week wait system. They found that, the majority of GPs adhered to the referral guidelines and that 12.5 per cent of those referred under the two week wait system were diagnosed with skin cancer, of which 6.75 per cent had Malignant Melanoma or Squamous Cell Carcinoma.2
Klara Balogh, one of the authors of the paper says
“These percentages may seem low, but in well-established screening programmes for cervical and breast cancer the actual detection rates are only 0.02 and 0.8 per cent respectively. A 6.75 per cent skin cancer detection rate through this ‘filtered screening’ process is effective in comparison.
“Our study shows that, when the guidelines are adhered to, the two week wait system can be effective and leads to rapid diagnosis of skin cancer in the minority and rapid reassurance for the majority: a satisfactory outcome for patients.”
Written and supplied by the British Association of Dermatologists