Melanoma diagnoses fell 28% from April to November 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the previous year. This equates to an estimated 2,671 fewer diagnoses than expected.  

It is thought that the drop in skin cancer cases is due to a reduced number of people seeing their GP about potential skin cancers during the pandemic.  

The data comes from the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service and has been accepted for publication in the British Journal of Dermatology.   

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.  

To mark Sun Awareness Week 2021 (3rd-9th May), dermatologists from the British Association of Dermatologists’ Skin Cancer Prevention Committee are urging the public to check their skin for the signs of skin cancer and raise any concerns with their GP.     

May 2020, which is melanoma awareness month, saw the steepest drop off in melanoma diagnoses, with just 54% of the expected number of diagnoses for the month, in June this figure rose to 64%, and in August it was 69%.   

Estimates suggest that there were even larger drops in the number of keratinocyte cancers diagnosed. Keratinocyte cancers, also known as non-melanoma skin cancers, include basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC). While less deadly than melanoma skin cancer, these cancers are far more common.  

The number of BCCs and cSCCs biopsied in April 2020 was just 22% and 58%, respectively, of the number biopsied in April 2019.  

Dr Zoe Venables, Dermatology consultant at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and Dermatology Clinical Lead, National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service commented:   

“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 British Association of Dermatologists’ Skin Cancer Prevention Committee, said:     

“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.     

“We are highlighting these figures during Sun Awareness Week to open a dialogue with the public on how important it is to frequently check your skin for signs of cancer. 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.”   

This article originally featured on the British Association of Dermatologists ’Patient Hub’
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