Is initial excision of cutaneous melanoma by General Practitioners (GPs) dangerous? Comparing patient outcomes following excision of melanoma by GPs or in hospital using national datasets and meta-analysis

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Background: Melanomas are initially excised in primary care and rates vary internationally. Until now there has been no strong evidence that excising melanomas in primary care is safe. European guidelines make no recommendations and UK melanoma guidelines require all suspicious skin lesions to be initially treated in secondary care based on an expert consensus, which lacks supporting evidence, that primary care excision represents substandard care. Despite this, studies have found up to 20% of melanomas in the UK are excised by GPs. Patients receiving primary care melanoma excision may fear that their care is sub-standard and their long-term survival threatened, neither of which may be justified
Methods: Scottish cancer registry data from 9367 people diagnosed with melanoma in Scotland between 2005 and 2013 were linked to pathology records, hospital data and death records. A Cox proportional hazards regression analysis, adjusting for key confounders, explored the association between morbidity and mortality and setting of primary melanoma excision (primary versus secondary care). A pooled estimate of the relative hazard of death of having a melanoma excised in primary versus secondary care including 7116 patients from a similar Irish study was also performed.
Results: The adjusted hazard ratio (95% CI) of death from melanoma for those having primary care excision was 0.82 (0.61-1.10). Those receiving primary care excision had a median (IQR) of 8 (3-14) out-patient attendances compared to 10 (4-17) for the secondary care group with an adjusted RR (95% CI) of 0.98 (0.96-1.01). Both groups had a median of 1 (0-2) hospital admissions with an adjusted rate ratio of 1.05 (0.98-1.13). In the meta-analysis, with primary care as the reference, the pooled adjusted hazard ratio (95% CI) was 1.26 (1.07-1.50) indicating a significantly higher all-cause mortality among those with excision in secondary care.
Conclusions: The results of the Scottish and pooled analyses suggest that those receiving an initial excision for melanoma in primary care do not have poorer survival or increased morbidity compared to those being initially treated in secondary care. A randomised controlled trial to inform a greater role for GPs in the initial excision of melanoma is justified in the light of these results.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-384
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer
Early online date5 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017



  • melanoma
  • primary healthcare
  • cancer
  • surgery
  • cancer registries

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