Melanoma yield, number of biopsies and missed melanomas in a British teaching hospital pigmented lesion clinic: a 9-year retrospective study

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Abstract

The demand for pigmented lesion clinics (PLCs) is increasing in view of improved skin cancer awareness following public health education campaigns. These clinics offer an effective way of screening a large number of patients. However, there is no evidence, as yet, that they have an impact on mortality due to malignant melanoma. With the lack of follow-up inherent to these busy screening clinics, there is some concern that melanomas may be missed. This study reports on 7874 patient visits to a PLC in a teaching hospital between 1985 and 1994. In total, 1705 biopsies were performed over the 9-year period. Lesions were more likely to be biopsied in men compared with women. The yield for picking melanomas was one in 36 patient visits. The mean age of patients attending the PLC was 10 years less than the mean age for population-based melanomas. Melanoma thickness did not significantly change over the 9-year period. Only 0.2% of patients (14 cases) re-presented to the PLC for a second or third visit with a final diagnosis of melanoma, but for five of these patients, the interval between the two visits was over 2 years. Most of these ‘re-attending’ melanomas were early lesions. PLCs offer a fast, safe and efficient service for the screening of pigmented lesions but their role in reducing mortality due to malignant melanoma remains to be established. It is likely that these clinics have an important role in terms of public health education regarding sun avoidance and early recognition of skin cancer.

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