GPs -- The New Skin Cancer “Specialists”

by VR Sreeraman on Aug 19 2007 3:10 PM

Skin cancer is now a significant and growing health issue in Australia, and an increasing number of general practitioners are performing skin excisions in the primary care setting, according to three articles published in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.

Dr Deborah Askew, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Queensland School of Medicine, and her colleagues, studied the rate of skin cancer surgery performed by GPs in comparison with specialists.

They found GPs did 54.4 per cent of all non-melanoma skin cancer excisions in 2005, and between 2001 and 2005 there was a higher annual rate increase in the number of these excisions done by GPs than by specialists.

Dr Askew suggests this increase may be due to the rising number of skin cancer clinics and skin cancer services in general practice.

The large number of skin cancer clinics in general practice was studied in another paper published in the latest issue of the Journal, which examined skin cancer surgery performed in the primary care setting in Queensland.

Ms Philippa Youl, Manager of the Epidemiology Unit at the Cancer Council Queensland, and her colleagues found that GPs and skin cancer clinic doctors in Queensland diagnosed skin cancers with similar accuracy and high sensitivity overall.

In a related editorial in the same issue of the Journal, Dr Christopher Commens, Clinical Associate Professor at the Western Clinical School at Westmead Hospital, says there is a need to ensure that non-dermatologists who wish to be involved in skin cancer management receive the necessary further training.

“The public needs to be assured that new medical graduates are able to recognise skin cancers and that postgraduate education institutes will ensure that clinicians who choose to treat skin cancer are appropriately trained and competent.”

Dr Commens says this training is particularly important, as Australia currently has a shortage of specialist dermatologists.

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.