Original Research

Group Clinic for Chemoprevention of Squamous Cell Carcinoma: A Pilot Study

Author and Disclosure Information

Topical 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) is a valuable treatment of actinic keratosis (AK), but its use is limited by bothersome side effects. To evaluate patient satisfaction with a regimen of 5-FU for AK in group clinics, we offered participation in shared medical appointments (SMAs) to dermatology clinic patients diagnosed with AK at the Providence VA Medical Center in Rhode Island. Approximately 3 to 4 patients attended each pair of sessions spaced 2 weeks apart. At each visit, photographs and feedback were obtained; at the second visit, clinicians graded the patients’ reactions to 5-FU according to a validated numeric scale. Of the 14 study patients who attended the second SMA, 10 stated that they completed 2 weeks of 5-FU therapy, and the other 4 stated that they completed at least 11 days. The validated scale used during the second visit to grade the patients’ 5-FU reactions confirmed that all 14 patients demonstrated at least 1 expected adverse skin reaction. Feedback about the group setting was uniformly positive, with specific appreciation for the educational aspects, normalization of the treatment process, and opportunities to ask questions. The group clinic setting for 5-FU was well received and is a promising model for delivering this important treatment.

Practice Points

  • Shared medical appointments (SMAs) enhance patient experience with topical 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) treatment of actinic keratosis (AK).
  • Dermatologists should consider utilizing the SMA model for their patients being treated with 5-FU, as patients demonstrated a positive emotional response to 5-FU therapy in the group clinic setting.



Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) has an estimated incidence of more than 2.5 million cases per year in the United States.1 Its precursor lesion, actinic keratosis (AK), had an estimated prevalence of 39.5 million cases in the United States in 2004.2 The dermatology clinic at the Providence VA Medical Center in Rhode Island exerts consistent efforts to treat both SCC and AK by prescribing topical 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and lifestyle changes that include avoiding sun exposure, wearing protective clothing, and using effective sunscreen.3 A single course of topical 5-FU in veterans has been shown to decrease the risk for SCC by 74% during the year after treatment and also improve AK clearance rates.4,5

Effectiveness of 5-FU for secondary prevention can be decreased by patient misunderstandings, such as applying 5-FU for too short a time or using the corticosteroid cream prematurely, as well as patient nonadherence due to expected adverse skin reactions to 5-FU.6 Education and reassurance before and during therapy maximize patient compliance but can be difficult to accomplish in clinics when time is in short supply. During standard 5-FU treatment at the Providence VA Medical Center, the provider prescribes 5-FU and posttherapy corticosteroid cream at a clinic visit after an informed consent process that includes reviewing with the patient a color handout depicting the expected adverse skin reaction. Patients who later experience severe inflammation and anxiety call the clinic and are overbooked as needed.

To address the practical obstacles to the patient experience with topical 5-FU therapy, we developed a group chemoprevention clinic based on the shared medical appointment (SMA) model. Shared medical appointments, during which multiple patients are scheduled at the same visit with 1 or more health care providers, promote patient risk reduction and guideline adherence in complex diseases, such as chronic heart failure and diabetes mellitus, through efficient resource use, improvement of access to care, and promotion of behavioral changes through group support.7-13 To increase efficiency in the group chemoprevention clinic, we integrated dermatology nurses and nurse practitioners from the chronic care model into the group medical visits, which ran from September 2016 through March 2017. Because veterans could interact with peers undergoing the same treatment, we hypothesized that use of the cream in a group setting would provide positive reinforcement during the course of therapy, resulting in a positive treatment experience. We conducted a retrospective review of medical records of the patients involved in this pilot study to evaluate this model.


Institutional review board approval was obtained from the Providence VA Medical Center. Informed consent was waived because this study was a retrospective review of medical records.

Study Population
We offered participation in a group chemoprevention clinic based on the SMA model for patients of the dermatology clinic at the Providence VA Medical Center who were planning to start 5-FU in the fall of 2016. Patients were asked if they were interested in participating in a group clinic to receive their 5-FU treatment. Patients who were established dermatology patients within the Veterans Affairs system and had scheduled annual full-body skin examinations were included; patients were not excluded if they had a prior diagnosis of AK but had not been previously treated with 5-FU.

Each SMA group consisted of 3 to 4 patients who met initially to receive the 5-FU medication and attend a 10-minute live presentation that included information on the dangers and causes of SCC and AK, treatment options, directions for using 5-FU, expected spectrum of side effects, and how to minimize the discomfort of treatment side effects. Patients had field treatment limited to areas with clinically apparent AKs on the face and ears. They were prescribed 5-FU cream 5% twice daily.

One physician, one nurse practitioner, and one registered nurse were present at each 1-hour clinic. Patients arrived and were checked in individually by the providers. At check-in, the provider handed the patient a printout of his/her current medication list and a pen to make any necessary corrections. This list was reviewed privately with the patient so the provider could reconcile the medication list and review the patient’s medical history and so the patient could provide informed consent. After, the patient had the opportunity to select a seat from chairs arranged in a circle. There was a live PowerPoint presentation given at the beginning of the clinic with a question-and-answer session immediately following that contained information about the disease and medication process. Clinicians assisted the patients with the initial application of 5-FU in the large group room, and each patient received a handout with information about AKs and a 40-g tube of the 5-FU cream.


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