Background: Current guidelines for the surgical management of melanoma aim to bring a combined consensus approach to the surgery of melanoma. Whether different outcomes for melanoma are related to the specialist who treats the patient is unknown.
Objectives: To examine the clinicopathological features and surgical management of patients with primary cutaneous malignant melanoma treated by dermatologists, general surgeons, plastic surgeons and general practitioners (GPs). We also examined if the category of specialist had an effect on the survival outcome for the patient.
Methods: A retrospective, observational study of patients registered on a specialist database that records the clinicopathological features, surgical treatment and follow-up information of patients with malignant melanoma in Scotland. The patients had invasive primary cutaneous malignant melanoma without evidence of metastasis at the time of surgery, diagnosed between 1979 and 1997, with follow-up to the end of December 1999. Clinicopathological characteristics and surgical treatment of patients were compared for the four groups of specialist, as were overall survival (OS), disease-free survival (DFS) and recurrence-free interval (RF).
Results: Of 1536 patients, 663 (43%) were treated initially by a dermatologist, 486 (32%) by a general surgeon, 257 (17%) by a plastic surgeon and 130 (8%) by a GP. The proportion of patients managed by dermatologists rose over the lifetime of the study. Compared with the other specialists, the patients treated by general and plastic surgeons were older; a higher proportion of female patients was managed by dermatologists; median tumour thickness, lesion diameter and frequency of ulceration were all greater in the general surgeon-treated group; plastic surgeons treated a higher proportion of lentigo maligna melanomas; and general surgeons and GPs saw a higher proportion of nodular melanomas. Over 90% of patients managed by a dermatologist or GP underwent wider local excision following initial excision, compared with 43% and 25%, respectively, in the general and plastic surgery groups. General surgeons used wider excision margins than the other specialists. OS, DFS and RF were significantly better in the dermatology group compared with the general and plastic surgery groups.
Conclusions: This study showed that dermatologists manage an increasing majority of melanoma patients and that there were significant differences in the surgical treatment of melanoma between dermatologists and surgeons. Survival was significantly better in the dermatology-treated group, suggesting that dermatologists should have a central role in melanoma management.