Objectives: To describe circumstances of the diagnosis and access to dermatological care for patients with cutaneous melanoma (CM) and to investigate factors associated with early detection.
Design: Retrospective population-based study of incident cases of invasive CM in 2004, using questionnaires to physicians and a survey of cancer registries and pathology laboratories.
Setting: Five regions in northeastern France.
Patients: Six hundred fifty-two patients who were referred to dermatologists by general practitioners (group 1) or by other specialists (group 2), who directly consulted a dermatologist for CM (group 3), or who were diagnosed as having CM during a prospective follow-up of nevi (group 4) or when consulting a dermatologist for other diseases (group 5).
Main outcome measures: Characteristics of patients, tumors, and patients' residence in each group, including the geographical concentration of dermatologists. We performed multivariate analysis of these factors to determine association with Breslow thickness.
Results: Age, tumor location, Breslow thickness, ulceration, histological type, and geographical concentration of dermatologists significantly differed among groups. Patients consulting dermatologists directly formed the largest group (45.1%). Those referred by general practitioners (26.1%) were the oldest and had the highest frequency of thick (>3 mm), nodular, and/or ulcerated CM. Patients from groups 4 (8.4%) and 5 (14.1%) had the thinnest CMs. Ulcerated and/or thick tumors were absent in group 4. In multivariate analysis, histological types superficial spreading melanoma and lentigo maligna melanoma, younger age, high concentration of dermatologists, and detection by dermatologists were significantly associated with thinner CMs.
Conclusion: Easy access of patients to dermatologists, information campaigns targeting elderly people, and education of general practitioners are complementary approaches to improving early detection.