Sunday, June 10, 2012

Screening finds skin cancer, but does it save lives?

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Doctors find a high number of malignant tumors when a state-wide skin cancer screening program is introduced, says a new study.
Based on results from a program in Germany, researchers say 116 people need to be screened for skin cancer and five people need to have a biopsy to find one malignant tumor.
They, however, cannot say whether the screenings actually saved lives.
Still, the numbers reported in the new study are "quite good," said Dr. Alexander Katalinic, one of the study's coauthors, in an email to Reuters Health.
In the United States, the last time the government-backed U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) looked at the screenings in 2009, the group said there was not enough evidence to recommend full-body exams to check for signs of skin cancer in adults. The USPSTF, however, did not recommend against it either.
Dr. Virginia Moyer, the chair of the USPSTF, said the group reviews its guidelines every few years, and as for now its 2009 recommendation stands.
For the study, the researchers examined data from the Skin Cancer Research to Provide Evidence for Effectiveness of Screening in Northern Germany (SCREEN) program, which was conducted in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein between 2003 and 2004. (Germany has had a national skin cancer screening program in place since July 2008.)
More than 360,000 people older than 20 years old and living in the state chose to be screened by doctors who went through a special training to identify suspicious skin lesions or moles.
Some people decided to see a dermatologist while others went to a general practitioner who referred them to a dermatologist if they suspected skin cancer.
Overall, about 16,000 people had a biopsy -- about one for every 23 people who were screened. Doctors identified about 3,100 malignant tumors from those biopsies.
The cost for each screening is about $27. A biopsy can run over $100, and the removal of a malignant skin lesion can cost about $800.
The researchers cannot say how many screenings led to an unnecessary biopsy or treatment, because of the program's design. But, Katalinic said "of course there are false positives."
Overall, there were 3,103 malignant skin tumors, and 585 of those were malignant melanomas, the most deadly type.
More than 50 people between the ages of 20 and 49 years old had to have a biopsy to identify one melanoma. That's more than double the 20 biopsies needed to find one in people over 65 years old.
Katalinic said, as an epidemiologist, he thinks the number needed to screen or biopsied should be improved, especially among younger people. There were also 1961 basal cell carcinomas, 392 squamous cell carcinomas and 165 were other types of malignant tumors.

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