Health Economic Consequences Associated With COVID-19–Related Delay in Melanoma Diagnosis in Europe

Maul, Lara V.; Jamiolkowski, Dagmar; Lapides, Rebecca A.; Mueller, Alina M.; Hauschild, Axel; Garbe, Claus; Lorigan, Paul; Gershenwald, Jeffrey E.; Ascierto, Paolo Antonio; Long, Georgina V.; Wang-Evers, Michael; Scolyer, Richard A.; Saravi, Babak; Augustin, Matthias; Navarini, Alexander A.; Legge, Stefan; Németh, István B.; Jánosi, Ágnes J.; Mocellin, Simone; Feller, Anita; Manstein, Dieter; Zink, Alexander; Maul, Julia-Tatjana; Buja, Alessandra; Adhikari, Kaustubh and Roider, Elisabeth (2024). Health Economic Consequences Associated With COVID-19–Related Delay in Melanoma Diagnosis in Europe. JAMA Network Open, 7(2), article no. e2356479.



Importance: The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in delayed access to medical care. Restrictions to health care specialists, staff shortages, and fear of SARS-CoV-2 infection led to interruptions in routine care, such as early melanoma detection; however, premature mortality and economic burden associated with this postponement have not been studied yet.
Objective: To determine the premature mortality and economic costs associated with suspended melanoma screenings during COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns by estimating the total burden of delayed melanoma diagnoses for Europe.
Design, Setting, and Participants: This multicenter economic evaluation used population-based data from patients aged at least 18 years with invasive primary cutaneous melanomas stages I to IV according to the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) seventh and eighth editions, including melanomas of unknown primary (T0). Data were collected from January 2017 to December 2021 in Switzerland and from January 2019 to December 2021 in Hungary. Data were used to develop an estimation of melanoma upstaging rates in AJCC stages, which was verified with peripandemic data. Years of life lost (YLL) were calculated and were, together with cost data, used for financial estimations. The total financial burden was assessed through direct and indirect treatment costs. Models were building using data from 50 072 patients aged 18 years and older with invasive primary cutaneous melanomas stages I to IV according to the AJCC seventh and eighth edition, including melanomas of unknown primary (T0) from 2 European tertiary centers. Data from European cancer registries included patient-based direct and indirect cost data, country-level economic indicators, melanoma incidence, and population rates per country. Data were analyzed from July 2021 to September 2022.
Exposure: COVID-19 lockdown-related delay of melanoma detection and consecutive public health and economic burden. As lockdown restrictions varied by country, lockdown scenario was defined as elimination of routine medical examinations and severely restricted access to follow-up examinations for at least 4 weeks.
Main Outcomes and Measures: Primary outcomes were the total burden of a delay in melanoma diagnosis during COVID-19 lockdown periods, measured using the direct (in US$) and indirect (calculated as YLL plus years lost due to disability [YLD] and disability-adjusted life-years [DALYs]) costs for Europe. Secondary outcomes included estimation of upstaging rate, estimated YLD, YLL, and DALY for each European country, absolute direct and indirect treatment costs per European country, proportion of the relative direct and indirect treatment costs for the countries, and European health expenditure.
Results: There were an estimated 111 464 (range, 52 454-295 051) YLL due to pandemic-associated delay in melanoma diagnosis in Europe, and estimated total additional costs were $7.65 (range, $3.60 to $20.25) billion. Indirect treatment costs were the main cost driver, accounting for 94.5% of total costs. Estimates for YLD in Europe resulted in 15 360 years for the 17% upstaging model, ranging from 7228 years (8% upstaging model) to 40 660 years (45% upstaging model). Together, YLL and YLD constitute the overall disease burden, ranging from 59 682 DALYs (8% upstaging model) to 335 711 DALYs (45% upstaging model), with 126 824 DALYs for the real-world 17% scenario.
Conclusions and Relevance: This economic analysis emphasizes the importance of continuing secondary skin cancer prevention measures during pandemics. Beyond the personal outcomes of a delayed melanoma diagnosis, the additional economic and public health consequences are underscored, emphasizing the need to include indirect economic costs in future decision-making processes. These estimates on DALYs and the associated financial losses complement previous studies highlighting the cost-effectiveness of screening for melanoma.

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