Executive Director, Melanoma Network of Canada
The devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic is felt beyond the immediate impact of the virus itself. The volume of patients that flooded hospitals and healthcare facilities prevented many would-be patients from visiting their health care teams for regular appointments, including skin checks. A global survey of over seven hundred dermatologists estimates twenty-one percent of early-stage melanoma went undiagnosed due to one third of all professional skin-check appointments being missed during COVID-19 lockdowns. Those who have managed to access care since lockdowns have lifted are presenting with larger, more advanced tumours, and are being diagnosed at a later stage.
“It took months of my partner pestering me to get it checked. By the time I did, the melanoma on my leg had reached the point of invasion… it invaded other tissues,” said Fran Ure, a patient supported by the Melanoma Network of Canada from Nakusp, B.C. Fran needed to have major surgery to remove her melanoma and surrounding lymph nodes.
The pandemic also resulted in delayed diagnoses for non-melanoma skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which account for over 80,000 skin cancers in Canada each year. While these types of skin cancers may be less deadly than melanoma, they can cause substantial illness, disfigurement and significantly affect quality of life. A recent study from Ontario suggests, “Death rates seem to be increasing from these non-melanoma skin cancers, over the twenty year period — an average of eight to nine percent increase per year!”1
The incidence rates of melanoma and skin cancer are on the rise in Canada. This alarming trend can be curbed as the diseases can often be prevented and detected by the patient. The overwhelming majority (65-85 percent) of melanoma and skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. One sunburn before the age of twenty significantly increases the chance of a melanoma or skin cancer diagnosis. Tanning bed usage further increases the odds!
There is no safe tan! Make sure to wear sunscreen, cover up using UPF 50+ protective apparel, and seek shade.
Twenty-one percent of early-stage melanoma went undiagnosed due to one third of all professional skin-check appointments missed during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Help find the 1,999 melanomas that went undiagnosed during the pandemic… how to detect melanoma
Melanoma and skin cancer affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or race. It is important to conduct monthly skin checks and talk to your health care team about any concerns. Early diagnosis is key to survival and minimizing the impact of the disease on quality of life.
1 According to a Women’s College Hospital study – https://globalnews.ca/news/8240835/non-melanoma-skin-cancer-ontario-study/amp/