Skin cancer discovery during total body skin examinations


Advocate Aurora Health Care Medical Group


Background: Patients presenting with a site-specific skin complaint may receive a total body skin examination (TBSE) or a more focused examination. A TBSE may be time-consuming but can potentially detect unsuspected or early stage skin cancers. The purpose of this study was to assess the detection of skin cancers associated with dermatologist-initiated TBSE performed immediately after a focused skin examination on the same patients.

Methods: The dermatology records of patients with biopsy-proven melanoma, basal cell carcinoma (BCC), or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) during a 2-year period were reviewed. Generalized linear mixed-effects models were used to estimate the odds of a lesion being identified by a dermatologist (rather than the patient or the patient's primary health care provider).

Results: A total 1563 biopsy-proven cutaneous malignancies were found on 1010 patients. Of these, 797 cancers (51%) were first identified by a dermatologist on TBSE and 764 (48.9%) by the patient or the referring provider. Among tumors first identified by dermatologists (n = 797), 553 (69%) were BCCs, 220 (28%) were SCCs, and 24 (3%) were melanomas. The mean Breslow depth was 0.53 mm (standard deviation: 0.31 mm) for melanomas found on TBSE versus 1.04 mm (standard deviation: 1.68 mm) if identified by patients or referring providers. BCCs were more likely to be identified by a dermatologist during a TBSE (n = 553 [56%] vs. n = 434 [44%]; odds ratio: 1.79; p < .001). Tumors ultimately diagnosed as SCCs were more often identified by patients or patients' primary care providers (n = 302 [58%]; odds ratio: 0.56; p < .001). However, 220 otherwise undetected SCCs were found during dermatologist-performed TBSE.

Conclusion: Dermatologist-performed TBSEs identified numerous cutaneous malignancies that might otherwise have remained undiagnosed. Early detection of melanoma or nonmelanoma skin cancer by TBSEs may spare patients significant morbidity and mortality.



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