The naked eye alone is not enough to ensure the accurate diagnosis of skin cancer, say experts

December 06, 2018

The visual inspection of a suspicious skin lesion using the naked eye alone is not enough to ensure the accurate diagnosis of skin cancer, a group of experts have concluded following a largescale systematic review of research.

The review is published today (Dec 6th) in The Cochrane Library as part of a Special Collection of Cochrane Systematic Reviews bringing together a large body of research on the accuracy of tests used to diagnose skin cancer. The suite of eleven reviews was led by Dr Jac Dinnes at the University of Birmingham and supported by the Cochrane Skin Group and a team of over 30 researchers and expert advisors. The work was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The reviews summarise research evidence assessing the accuracy of different diagnostic tests to support clinical and policy related decision making in the diagnosis of all types of skin cancer.

Dr Jac Dinnes, of the University of Birmingham's Institute of Applied Health Research, said: "Early and accurate detection of all skin cancer types is essential to manage the disease and to improve survival rates in melanoma, especially given the rate of skin cancer world-wide is rising.

"The visual nature of skin cancer means that it can be detected and treated in many different ways and by a number of different types of specialists, therefore the aim of these reviews is to provide the world's best evidence for how this endemic type of cancer should be identified and treated.

"We have found that careful consideration should be given of the technologies that could be used to make sure that skin cancers are not missed, at the same time ensuring that inappropriate referrals for specialist assessment and inappropriate excision of benign skin lesions are kept to a minimum."

There are three main forms of skin cancer. Melanoma and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC), are high-risk skin cancers with the potential to spread and cause death.

A basal cell carcinoma (BCC) rarely spreads, usually remaining localised with potential to infiltrate and damage surrounding tissue.

Key findings of the Special Collection were: Cochrane Skin Group founder Professor Hywel Williams, of the Centre of Evidence-Based Dermatology at the University of Nottingham, said: "Completing this broad suite of detailed reviews was a real marathon.

"Apart from a few exceptions, I was surprised by how poor the overall study designs were, especially in terms of accurately documenting where on the clinical pathway patients were tested.

"Although some useful conclusions have emerged, for example, on the role of dermoscopy, the greatest value of the research is to serve as a yardstick for designing future studies evaluating skin cancer diagnosis techniques on patients who are typically seen in GP and specialist settings."

The research team said that future studies evaluating diagnostic skin cancer tests should recruit patients with suspicious skin lesions at the point on the clinical pathway where the test under evaluation will be used in practice.

Further research is also needed to evaluate whether checklists to assist diagnosis by visual inspection alone can improve accuracy and to identify how much accuracy varies according to the level of expertise of the clinician carrying out the assessment.

Well-designed studies of dermoscopy in primary care are needed, and the best ways of delivering dermoscopy training need to be identified.

The reviews have been shared with The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to inform a potential update of the NICE Melanoma guideline, which was last updated in 2015.
-end-
For media enquiries contact:

1. Emma McKinney, Communications Manager (Health Sciences), University of Birmingham, Email: e.j.mckinney@bham.ac.uk or tel: +44 (0) 121 414 6681, or contact the press office out of hours on +44 (0) 7789 921 165 or pressoffice@contacts.bham.ac.uk

2. Katie Abbotts, External Communications and Media Officer, Cochrane, Tel: +44(0) 7810 504380, email: kabbotts@cochrane.org or pressoffice@cochrane.org

Notes to editor:

The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world's top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.

Cochrane is a global independent network of researchers, professionals, patients, carers and people interested in health. Cochrane produces reviews which study all of the best available evidence generated through research and make it easier to inform decisions about health. These are called systematic reviews. Cochrane is a not-for profit organization with collaborators from more than 130 countries working together to produce credible, accessible health information that is free from commercial sponsorship and other conflicts of interest. Our work is recognised as representing an international gold standard for high quality, trusted information.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR: The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research to benefit the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries, using Official Development Assistance funding. This work uses data provided by patients and collected by the NHS as part of their care and support and would not have been possible without access to this data. The NIHR recognises and values the role of patient data, securely accessed and stored, both in underpinning and leading to improvements in research and care. http://www.nihr.ac.uk/patientdata

The Special Collection of Reviews published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews are: The reviews can be viewed here: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/collections/doi/10.1002/14651858.SC000033/full

This Special Collection was developed by the Cochrane Editorial & Methods Department, in collaboration with Dr Jac Dinnes (Institute of Applied Health Research, University of Birmingham) of the Cochrane Skin Group. It contains reviews by the Cochrane Skin Group. The project was supported by the National Institute for Health Research, via Cochrane Infrastructure funding to the Cochrane Skin Group and Cochrane Programme Grant funding. The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Systematic Reviews Programme, NIHR, NHS or Department of Health.

University of Birmingham

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