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25-11-2010 | Article

Nonmelanoma skin cancer patients often delay seeing a physician


Free abstract

MedWire News: Denial is the most common reason for patients delaying seeking diagnosis and treatment for nonmelanoma skin cancer, researchers report.

Nonmelanoma is more common than melanoma skin cancer and includes basal cell carcinoma and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma.

Although most types are not fatal, they are capable of destroying facial sensory organs, including the nose, ear, lips, and eyelids, note MuradAlam (Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, USA) and colleagues.

"Early detection and treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancer reduces morbidity and is associated with a high likelihood of cure," the team says.

But in their study of 982 patients with nonmelanoma skin cancer, the researchers[M1] found that after noticing a suggestive lesion, most patients, at 68%, waited more than a month to see a physician.

In all, 88% of patients presented to a physician within a year of noticing their lesions, but 8% said they waited at least 3 years and 1% waited more than 10 years.

The main reason for delaying seeking a diagnosis and treatment, as stated by 71% of patients, was denial, which included thinking it would go away, thinking it was not important, being too busy, thinking they could self-treat, and being afraid it might be something dangerous.

This factor was more common than physical impediments such as difficulty scheduling an appointment, which was cited by just 10% of patients.

In addition, older patients aged at least 65 years were more likely to wait to seek care than younger patients, as were patients with a prior skin cancer or a history of any cancer, and those with major life problems.

The researchers note in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology that tumors tended to grow in size while patients were waiting, from 2-3 mm to 10 mm on average.

They call for education programs to address the problem of denial in patients with nonmelanoma skin cancer and communicate the benefits of early detection.

"If patients understand that early diagnosis and treatment can lead to briefer surgeries, smaller scars, and decreased morbidity, they may be less included to delay seeing a physician."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a trading division of Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2010

By Lucy Piper