Surgeon warns of spike in skin cancers after epidemic

Surgeon warns of spike in skin cancers after epidemic

Queenslanders who are putting skin checks on the back burner during the COVID-19 outbreak are being advised to do so – the number of cases seen by surgeons at Queensland Plastic Surgery is now double the pre-pandemic level.

According to reconstructive surgeon Dr Andrew Hadj, over the past six months, consultants based at the Mater Private Clinic have seen a troubling increase in new skin cancer cases.

«We have unfortunately seen an increase in cases that have been delayed due to the impact of COVID-19 over the past two years,» said Dr Hadj.

“There were consistently over 100 new referrals per month. About 40 to 50 referrals per month during the COVID-19 restrictions – that’s more than a 100 percent increase in volume.»

illuminate the spotlight National Skin Cancer Action Week (Will last until November 26), Dr Hadj said Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common presentation of skin cancer, accounting for 75% of all skin cancers the team has seen.

Dr Hadj said BCCs are a locally aggressive, slow growing skin tumor and can cause significant problems if left untreated.

«Twenty percent of the skin cancers we see are squamous cell carcinomas (the common form of skin cancer that is not life-threatening) and about 5% are melanomas,» said Dr Hadj.

“I marvel at the aggressiveness of skin cancers in young people in Queensland. It can be a matter of life and death for some patients.”

Dr Hadj said 109 new patients presented to plastic surgery Queensland with skin cancer in June, compared to 50 patients in June 2019. 97 patients presented to the clinic in July, compared to 43 patients two years ago.

Dr Hadj’s patient, Jamie-Leigh Torrisi, a mother of two from Ipswich, is urging young Australians to be sun smart and reapply sunscreen throughout the day, after more than half a dozen basal cell carcinomas were removed from her head.

The Mater Private Brisbane Hospital patient said not reapplying sunscreen after exercising for most of his childhood «paid the price».

«I’ve had eight skin cancers cut out and most of it on my hairline. I always wore a soft-brimmed hat and used sunscreen but never reapplied,» she said.

“One of the scars I got from cancer is 8 cm long on my forehead.

«I was diagnosed with skin cancer a few years ago and now I am very in tune with my skin and any changes.»

Mrs Torrisi, who has fair skin, said she constantly told her two olive-skinned sons to apply and reapply sunscreen.

«Just because they have darker skin doesn’t mean they can’t get skin cancer,» she said.

Dr Hadj said there was some reluctance to seek medical attention due to concerns about coming into contact with people with COVID-19 during the pandemic.

«It is very important to emphasize that these lesions can have quite devastating effects if left untreated for three to six months and will require immediate care by a plastic surgeon, dermatologist or local GP,» he said.

Dr Hadj said telehealth examinations are an option if patients are concerned about going to specialist clinics.

As summer approaches, Dr Hadj said UV radiation directly damages cells in the skin, leading to pigmentation (melanin).

«Excessive sun exposure (UV A and B) radiation afterwards always leads to cancer formation,» said Dr Hadj.

“Most Caucasian Queenslanders unfortunately have the least adaptive skin type, which is both most affected by UV radiation and at highest risk.

«Daily care must be taken to protect all exposed skin throughout the day, so be sure to wear a hat, sunscreen, and long sleeves.»

Warning signs of basal cell carcinoma:

  • An open sore that does not heal and may bleed, ooze, or crust over
  • A reddish patch or irritated area on the face, chest, shoulder, arm, or leg
  • A shiny lump or nodule that is pearly or clear, pink, red, or white
  • A small pink growth with slightly raised, curved edges
  • a wound-like area
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