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Surge in skin cancer referrals

A surge in GP referrals for skin cancer is overwhelming secondary care clinics, a new study warns.

Researchers found heightened public anxiety had driven up referrals for suspected melanoma by 230 per cent between 1997 and 2004.

But they found the increase, which threatened hospital services with 'collapse', had not meant melanomas were diagnosed any earlier.

Dr Clifford Lawrence, consultant dermatologist at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, said his clinic now had to screen 36 patients for each melanoma compared with 23 in 1997.

But he added: 'We haven't shown a decrease in thickness [of melanomas] which is what the purpose is.'

He warned he might soon have to start turning patients away and urged GPs to lower their threshold for referral.

Dr Tim Mitchell, a member of the Primary Care Dermatology Society and a GP in Bristol, said: 'It's long been known dermatology should be a much more important part of GP education. There are often cases sent up that probably you'd expect a GP with the right training to filter out.'

The study of 16,000 patients at a melanoma screening clinic was published in the British Journal of Dermatology, (March).

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