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Rate of Skin Cancer Diagnoses During COVID-19 Pandemic: Canadian Population Study

By: Vanessa A. Carter, BS
Posted: Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Timothy P. Hanna, MD, PhD, of the Cancer Research Institute at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and colleagues analyzed the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the rates of skin biopsy in a large, population-based group. These researchers observed a “drastic reduction” in skin biopsies at the beginning of the pandemic, and, despite an eventual increase, there was a significant backlog of cases for about 6 months. Their results were published in the PLoS One.

“This will have implications for downstream care of skin cancer,” the investigators noted. “We recommend that public health messages encourage individuals with suspicious skin lesions to seek evaluation in a timely fashion, and that this is welcome and encouraged.”

The researchers analyzed 14.7 million universal health care claims from an Ontario data set to identify any skin biopsies performed from January 2020 to September 2020. These results were compared with data from the same time frame (weeks 1–15) of 2019.

The median age of patients was 63 years, and 51% were female. The number of initial skin cancer biopsies fell from 57,744 in 2019 to 42,848 in 2020; the number of cases of keratinocyte carcinoma decreased from 13,734 to 10,776; and the number of cases of melanoma declined from 910 to 736 (P < .01). These results displayed a high specificity for both keratinocyte carcinoma (99%) and melanoma (98%) compared with an already validated algorithm.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, elderly patients (P < .01) and patients in the Greater Toronto Area were less likely to undergo a skin biopsy. On the other hand, male patients (P < .01) and individuals who had biopsies performed by a plastic surgeon (P < .01) tended to be more likely to undergo a skin biopsy during this time. Approximately 10 weeks after early lockdown in Canada, an increase in skin biopsies was observed; however, the rates were not close to those reported in 2019.

Disclosure: The study authors reported no conflicts of interest.



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