"We are seeing an epidemic of skin cancer, including people in their twenties and thirties"

The number of people who want an appointment with a dermatologist has grown by nearly 40 per cent in recent months, says this specialist Leandro Martínez President of the Andalusian section of the Spanish Academy of Dermatology

ÁNGEL ESCALERA MALAGA.

The demand for appointments with dermatologists has soared in the public and private health sectors since the coronavirus lockdown. In some cases there has been a 40 per cent increase, as the president of the Andalusian section of he Spanish Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, Leandro Martínez, tells us in this interview. He has just been re-elected to the position for four more years. "We are seeing an absolute epidemic of skin cancer, including in people under 30, and we are not used to seeing that," says this specialist, who is the head of the dermatology department at the Regional Hospital in Malaga.

–What objective have you set after being re-elected?

–Well, we have an almost permanent objective, which is to work so that dermatology in Andalucía remains in good shape, because it is already a benchmark at a national level and we want it to be the same internationally. We also want society to know more about dermatology, and people to understand that they should consult a dermatologist whenever they have a skin problem, or for treatment, because we are specialists in healthy as well as unhealthy skin. We also want to resume and strengthen relations with the administration; that is essential because it means we can draw up joint strategies for the benefit of patients and professionals.

THE PATIENTS"There are more cases of melanoma in Malaga than anywhere else because of the sun, almost twice as many as in some placesTHE DOCTORS"Consultations with dermatologists have soared in the public and private healthcare sectors since the lockdown"

–In what way do you want to raise awareness for the importance of skin care?

–At a recent meeting of dermatologists in Cordoba, we talked about the importance of educating people about keeping their skin healthy. As well as placing an emphasis on early detection of cancer, we need to stress the importance of preventive dermatology. If you look after your skin properly you can prevent the illness.

–Which good skin care habits do you recommend?

–You have to be careful about sunbathing because, although it is necessary to be out in the sun sometimes, it should only be for short periods. You need to learn to coexist with the sun, by avoiding the times when ultraviolet radiation is at its highest, which is between midday and 3pm, especially in the summer. Try to stay in the shade. You only need 15 to 20 minutes of sunshine a day to get enough vitamin D. Apart from that, skin needs to be kept clean and well hydrated.

–Demand for consultations with dermatologists is increasing, in the public and private health sectors. Are there enough dermatologists to meet that demand?

–We have analysed the situation and at present nearly three times as many dermatologists are being trained than a decade ago. So the number of dermatologists is much higher than standard, but it is true that demand is increasing since the Covid pandemic began. By that, I mean that far more people are requesting appointments now. It may not be because they have a problem, but because they are more interested in looking after their skin since the lockdown, now that so many people are using digital devices with screens and taking part in video-conferences. All that has created a higher demand.

–So that is why the waiting list has grown and it takes longer to get an appointment?

–We have seen that at times the demand has increased by 40 per cent, in the public health and private sector.

–In the health service hospitals in Andalucía, are there enough dermatologists in general or are there differences between provinces in terms of staffing levels?

–The staffing levels in the big hospitals cover the needs, but like everything in life if we had more we could do more. Nevertheless, it is important to recognise that we have high levels of staffing in all the major hospitals. It is in some district hospitals that there is a lack of dermatologists and other types of specialists.

–Are there dermatologists in smaller hospitals in Malaga province, outside the city?

–Yes there are, in Ronda, La Axarquía and Antequera and, of course, at the Costa del Sol Hospital in Marbella.

–What are the most common types of dermatological illness?

–Most consultations are to do with skin cancer, including pre-malignant lesions and those that need a differential diagnosis. We are seeing a real epidemic of skin cancer nowadays, because our current habits of exposure to the sun mean that we accumulate a great deal of radiation. There are cases of skin cancer in very young patients, and we are not used to seeing that. People in their late twenties and early thirties, I mean.

–What is the situation with melanoma in Malaga, as that is the most aggressive type of skin cancer?

–There is more melanoma in Malaga than in other places and the figures are almost double those where people have less exposure to the sun.

–To what extent have the face masks to stop us catching Covid-19 protected our skin?

–What we have seen most is that the use of face masks has exacerbated small facial skin pathologies that some people had, such as seborrhoeic dermatitis, which appears on the nasal wings or in the area between the eyebrows. There have also been outbreaks of acne, as well as worsening of eczema and rosacea, which is a very common condition that causes redness on the face.

–Is dermatology one of the specialities which are usually chosen by newly-qualified doctors who have achieved the best results in their degrees?

–Dermatology is experiencing a golden age at present. For many years the first medical intern places have gone to post-graduates with very good qualifications who have chosen to specialise in dermatology. That means that our speciality has a high scientific standard and it is a benchmark and at the forefront of the health care sector, because it has been very effective at integrating technological advances, in diagnosis and in treatment.

–The other part of your speciality is venereology. Has there been an increase in sexually transmitted diseases following the lockdown?

–After the lockdown was lifted there was an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, we have seen and are still seeing a major increase in cases of scabies, which although it is not a venereal disease, is caught through skin-to-skin contact.