Delayed treatment and continued growth of nonmelanoma skin cancer

Murad Alam, Leonard H. Goldberg, Sirunya Silapunt, Erin S. Gardner, Sara S. Strom, Alfred W. Rademaker, David J. Margolis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Background: Patients may delay treatment for skin cancer for various reasons. Prior research on treatment delay has focused on melanoma rather than nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC), which is much more common. Objective: We sought to clarify the reasons for delay in the presentation for diagnosis and treatment of NMSC. Methods: This was a prospective cohort study in a Mohs micrographic surgery private practice in an urban setting. Eligible subjects were 982 consecutive patients presenting for Mohs micrographic surgery for NMSC between March and December 2005. No enrolled subjects were withdrawn for adverse effects. The survey was a 4-page written self-administered questionnaire, eliciting patient medical history, skin cancer history, demographic information, initial and subsequent lesion size, and reasons for delay in presentation for evaluation and management. Outcome analyses addressed the: (1) frequency of specific reasons for delayed presentation, as provided by self-report; (2) association between reasons for delay with demographic or other patient-specific factors; and (3) change in lesion diameter from the time of detection by the patient to the time of presentation to the doctor. Results: Among the reasons for waiting, denial (including: thought it would go away, thought it wasn't important, too busy, thought they could self-treat, afraid it might be something dangerous) was the most frequent, accounting for 71% of cases; difficulty scheduling was associated with 10% of the instances of delay. Older patients (age >64 years) were more likely to wait to seek care than younger patients (odd ratio [OR] = 0.5; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.4-0.7). Patients with a prior skin cancer were more likely to wait (OR = 1.4; 95% CI 1.1-2.0), as were patients with major life problems (OR = 2.6; 95% CI 1.6-4.3) and patients with a history of any cancer (OR = 1.8; 95% CI 1.3-2.4). Weighted kappa analysis comparing tumor size at the two time points yielded a kappa of 0.72 (SE = .02; 95% CI 0.68-0.77). When the data were separated into two groups, one including those tumors that had decreased in size or remained the same (698 patients), and those that had increased in size (120 patients), the median delay-to-presentation intervals associated with these two groups (2.5 vs 6.0 months, respectively) were found to be significantly different (P < .0001). Limitations: This study may have limited generalizability to the extent that it reflects the characteristics only of the subpopulation of patients with skin cancer who eventually received treatment at a referral-based, urban, dermatology private practice. Overall, these patients may have been better insured and be more affluent than the general population. Conclusions: Denial is the most common patient-specific factor accounting for delayed presentation for NMSC diagnosis and treatment. Patients younger than 65 years, with a skin cancer history, with major life problems, and with a history of any cancer were most likely to wait to see a doctor. There was a significant increase in tumor size from the time when tumors were noticed by patients to the time when patients presented to a physician. Increased delay was associated with increased tumor growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)839-848
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Dermatology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011


  • basal cell carcinoma
  • delay
  • denial
  • nonmelanoma skin cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dermatology


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