Madrid, April 10, 2021- Non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell and squamous cell) is the most common tumor diagnosed in humans and is normally treated in dermatology without the need for cancer treatment. Generally, these tumors are not fatal unless diagnosed late, in more advanced stages. In fact, "this is what we have been seeing in recent months due to the delays in diagnosis due to the pandemic, in addition to the increased incidence noted in squamous tumors and Merkel cell carcinoma, which is more uncommon", says Dr. Pilar Lopez Criado, head of the Multidisciplinary Skin and Melanoma Unit at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid.
These delays in diagnosis are also affecting melanoma, the skin tumor that, although not the most prevalent, causes the highest mortality. "We have a higher incidence and diagnoses coming later," she adds. As a result, "in the last six months the number of cases of advanced skin tumors treated has tripled, which has led to a greater use of systemic therapies, like immunotherapy for Merkel cell carcinoma or squamous cell tumors and targeted therapies for basal cell tumors”.
These types of non-melanoma skin tumors, which are usually less aggressive and tend to affect older people, coincide with the profile of patients who have been affected by the pandemic. "It is precisely these patients who have least attended the hospital for medical check-ups", she points out.
In fact, “because MD Anderson Madrid is a reference in this field, we used to see a somewhat more complex tumor almost anecdotally, since it was something unusual, but now we treat three times more cases than before the pandemic”, says Dr. Lopez Criado.
In addition to that, is the increase in late diagnoses of melanoma affecting a younger population, who have also been affected by the current health situation.
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Dr. Lopez Criado stresses the need to take measures to prevent the delay in diagnosing skin cancer and, consequently, avoiding a poor prognosis. "We must convey the importance of seeing a dermatologist, especially to those elderly patients who tend to have a worse prognosis as a result of changes to the skin associated with age", she warns.
In the older population, it is also important to pay attention to changes in skin pigmentation, flaking or lesions accompanied by itching or irritation, since they often grow in size and the level of discomfort does not subside. This type of skin should be monitored by the dermatologist, at least once a year to control and rule out a possible tumor pathology, especially if there is a family history of skin tumors. "Time is essential for the diagnosis".
Until recently, there was no treatment for many non-melanoma skin tumors, such as Merkel cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, and they could sometimes cause the death of elderly patients. Fortunately, we now have very useful, effective drugs to address such tumors.
Regarding clinical research, a clinical trial for BRAF mutated melanoma is underway at MD Anderson Madrid and aims to assess the interaction of drugs already approved in metastatic melanoma with commonly used drugs like gastric protectants, lipid-lowering drugs and so on. "More practical realities for the patient are being explored, as well as trials aiming to improve the efficacy of these treatments”.
At MD Anderson Madrid we have the Multidisciplinary Skin and Melanoma Unit made up of a team of renowned professionals in the multidisciplinary approach to skin cancer and melanoma in its different stages. The basis of this multidisciplinary approach is the Multidisciplinary Tumor Board, made up of professionals from different specialties (Dermatology, Radiology, Pathology, Surgical Oncology, Radiation Oncology, Medical Oncology). This allows a single case to benefit from the joint vision of dermatologists, surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, nuclear physicians and radiologists who work closely together, pooling their knowledge to ensure the treatment is successful. We also maintain close contact with the Skin and Melanoma Unit at MD Anderson Houston.