Virtual triage tech identifies skin cancer in high-risk patients
A new virtual triage service, designed by MoleMap, has identified skin cancer in 12% of high-risk patients examined. The contactless service was used by melanographers in Australia and New Zealand to assess patient lesions remotely during COVID-19, and to refer high-priority cases for further diagnosis and treatment.
Australia has the world’s highest rate of melanoma, with more than 13,200 new registrations and around 1770 Australians dying from this form of cancer every year. MoleMap, which claims to have the world’s largest database of skin lesions, identifies around 400 new cases of melanoma each year in Australia and New Zealand.
MoleMap dermatologist Associate Professor Helmut Schaider said that while melanoma can be deadly, the prognosis for those identified at an early stage is usually very positive — with a 90% disease-specific five-year survival rate. However, it is critical to diagnose and treat melanoma early before the cancer cells enter the bloodstream.
“We know from personal experience and literature that melanomas and non-melanoma skin cancers can develop within weeks,” Assoc Prof Schaider said.
“This is the reason why certain patients at high risk with a lot of moles, a personal or family history of skin cancer and those immunosuppressed are under constant surveillance and need ongoing care.
“Once the melanoma has progressed through the skin and into the bloodstream it can spread to other parts of the body where it becomes much harder to treat.”
MoleMap dermatologist Professor Peter Soyer said the intuitive ability of patients to identify a lesion of concern is often the catalyst for them to seek further advice, with patients able to identify suspicious lesions with a high degree of accuracy (>75%). “At the same time,” he said, “this high level of self-awareness can lead to anxiety when there are delays in diagnosis — such as those experienced under COVID-19.”
Such delays can now be avoided through the use of virtual imaging, which is particularly suitable for those whose mobility is restricted or who live in rural areas with less healthcare infrastructure. For every 100 patients screened through the new service, 282 suspect lesions were imaged, with dermatologists finding a total of 12 skin cancers including eight melanomas. One of these was found to be a nodular melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.
“Virtual identification of melanoma is paving the way for a new paradigm, which will help us develop new ways to treat patients remotely and will be an essential part of our preparation for the impact of future pandemics or a resurgence in this current one,” Prof Soyer said.
MoleMap Chairperson Jodi Mitchell said the new tech is an easy and inexpensive way to get a spot that concerns a patient evaluated by an experienced skin cancer nurse, who can ensure that diagnosis and treatment of the most worrying lesions is prioritised. Mitchell said the lockdown accelerated development of the virtual skin cancer diagnostic services, enabling MoleMap to provide patient solutions in both a virtual and physical environment.
“Patients who are concerned about a lesion will soon be able to enter a portal which contains their records and initiate a video call with a specialist melanographer who can help them determine the next steps for treatment or immediately help relieve some of the anxiety they may be experiencing,” she said.
“The new triage service empowers the patient to make sure the lesion that is bothering them can be attended to.”
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