Skin-imaging company MoleMap refunds customer $1386.
A Consumer member who paid $1386 to MoleMap received a refund and apology from the company after it failed to diagnose a non-melanoma skin cancer.
The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, has a history of melanoma and had been going to MoleMap, a skin-mapping and surveillance service, since May 2019.
MoleMap melanographers (registered nurses trained in skin cancer detection) use a dermatoscope to take magnified images of skin lesions. The images are sent to a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment advice. Customers are encouraged to return for regular checks to see whether there have been any changes.
At his first appointment, the man paid $389 for a full body scan. The MoleMap report noted three lesions that should be looked at again in three months and recommended a full scan in 12 months.
Three months later, the man paid $389 for another full body scan. On this occasion, the MoleMap report stated no lesions were found that required action. A third full body scan in November 2019 cost $269 and again found no lesions requiring action.
At his final appointment in August 2020, he was charged $339. This time, the MoleMap report noted one new suspicious lesion on his left forearm that required further investigation.
Four days later, the man visited his GP, who was concerned about two lesions, one of which hadn’t been identified by MoleMap. Both lesions were removed and a pathology report confirmed the lesions were nodular basal cell carcinoma (a type of non-melanoma skin cancer).
The man contacted us, concerned about the service he’d received after paying MoleMap $1386.
After we contacted MoleMap, its chief medical officer, dermatologist Dr Martin Haskett, investigated. MoleMap refunded the fees for the four body scans and offered the man a free full body scan with a senior melanographer.
MoleMap said basal cell carcinoma “can be very difficult to identify”. As a result of his investigation, Dr Haskett said the melanographer concerned had undergone “refresher” training in the detection of non-melanoma skin cancers,
MoleMap chief executive officer Tanya Houghton apologised to the man for his “extremely disappointing” experience.
Houghton confirmed that MoleMap would review its complaints process and “current communications to/with high risk or frequent patients to better understand their screening needs and to determine the most cost-effective approach to managing more regular visits”. The company would do this within three months.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer affecting Kiwis. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, responsible for nearly 80 percent of skin cancer deaths. In 2017, 2555 people were diagnosed with it and 310 died of the disease.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) – the type of skin cancer diagnosed in this case – and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are more common than melanoma. Basal cell carcinomas are less dangerous than other forms of skin cancer and rarely spread. However, if left untreated, they can be serious.
Exact figures are unknown (new cases aren’t registered with the Ministry of Health’s Cancer Registry) but it’s estimated 80,000 people are treated for non-melanoma skin cancer each year.
Finding skin cancer as early as possible is key to successful treatment.
Health agencies recommend you regularly check all areas of your skin, including areas not normally exposed to the sun, like the soles of the feet. Ask a family member or friend to check hard-to-see areas, such as your back, scalp and the back of your neck.
Research suggests most skin cancers are first picked up through self-checks. A study of New Zealand patients diagnosed from 2012 to 2014 found 64 percent first noticed the abnormal lesions themselves, 16 percent were found by a family member and 14 percent by a doctor.
If you’re worried about a spot that’s new or has changed, see your GP or a specialist (dermatologist or plastic surgeon). Australia and New Zealand clinical guidelines state diagnosis of melanoma may be enhanced by clinicians trained in dermoscopy.
A 2020 review by the Cochrane Institute (an international organisation that systematically reviews health-care interventions) found that when used by specialists, dermoscopy is better at diagnosing melanoma than visual inspection alone. The review concluded it may also help diagnose basal cell carcinomas.
Some skin clinics also offer skin checking or surveillance services. Before you make an appointment, check what services are offered and what they cost.
Have you used a skin checking service? We’d like to hear about your experience. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.