Among patients from a single dermatology practice who were diagnosed with two or more melanomas over an 8-year period, 45% lived more than 20 miles away from the practice, and almost 60% were 70 years of age and older, results from single-center study showed.
“Dermatologists have known that many people are underdiagnosed for melanoma, but now our research supports that the problem is especially concentrated among older patients living in remote areas,” corresponding author Rose Parisi, MBA, said in an interview. “With this information, dermatologists should consider identifying and reaching out to their patients in this at-risk subpopulation, increasing the frequency of full-body skin exams, and collaborating with primary care physicians to educate them about melanoma’s dangers.”
In a study published online Aug. 3 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Ms. Parisi of Albany Medical College, New York, and colleagues drew from the electronic medical records of a single-specialty private dermatology practice that serves urban, suburban, and rural patient populations to identify 346 melanoma pathology reports from patients cared for between 2012 and 2020. They limited their investigation to those diagnosed with biopsy-confirmed melanoma and analyzed the number of melanomas, Breslow depth, follow-up full-body skin exams, family history of melanoma, gender, insurance, and age (categorized as younger than 70 years and 70 years or older). To determine patient travel distance, they calculated the miles between the ZIP codes of the patient’s residence and the dermatology practice.
Regression analysis revealed that the. Specifically, among patients diagnosed with two or more melanomas, 45.0% lived more than 20 miles away and 21.3% lived less than 15 miles away; 59.6% were age 70 and older, while 40.4% were younger than age 70 (P less than .01).
No statistically significant association was observed between travel distance and Breslow depth or follow-up full-body skin exams within 1 year following diagnosis.
In other findings, among patients who lived more than 20 miles from the practice, those aged 70 and older were diagnosed with 0.56 more melanomas than patients between the ages of 58 and 70 (P = .00003), and 0.31 more melanomas than patients who lived 15-20 miles away (P = .014). No statistically significant differences in the number of melanomas diagnosed were observed between patients in either age group who lived fewer than 15 miles from the office.
“We were surprised that the combination of age and patient distance to diagnosing dermatology provider was such a powerful predictor of the number of diagnosed melanomas,” Ms. Parisi said. “It’s probably due to less mobility among older patients living in more remote areas, and it puts them at higher risk of multiple melanomas. This was something we haven’t seen in the dermatology literature.”
She and her coauthors acknowledged that the limited sampling of patients from a single practice “may not generalize across all urban and rural settings, and results must be considered preliminary,” they wrote. However, “our findings reveal an important vulnerability among older patients in nonurban areas, and efforts to improve access to melanoma diagnosis should be concentrated on this geodemographic segment.”
Nikolai Klebanov, MD, of the department of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, who was asked to comment on the study, described what was addressed in the study as a “timely and an important topic.”
In an interview, he said, “there is less access to dermatologists and other medical specialists outside of large metropolitan and suburban areas,” and there are other health disparities affecting people living in rural or more underserved areas, which, he added, “also became exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
For future studies on this topic, Dr. Klebanov said that he would be interested to see diagnoses measured per person-year rather than the total number of melanomas diagnosed. “More elderly patients may also be those who have ‘stuck with the practice’ for longer, and had a longer follow-up that gives more time to catch more melanomas,” he said.
“Adjusting for median income using ZIP codes could also help adjust for socioeconomic status, which would help with external validity of the study. Income relationships to geography are not the same in all cities; some have wealthy suburbs within 20 miles, while some have more underserved and rural areas at that distance.”
Neither the researchers nor Dr. Klebanov reported having financial disclosures.