Guidelines for evidence-based follow-up in melanoma patients are not available. This study examined whether a reduced follow-up schedule affects: patient-reported outcome measures, detection of recurrences, and follow-up costs.
This multicenter trial included 180 patients treated for AJCC stage IB-II cutaneous melanoma, who were randomized in a conventional follow-up schedule group (CSG, 4 visits first year, n = 93) or experimental follow-up schedule group (ESG, 1-3 visits first year, n = 87). Patients completed the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, cancer worry scale, impact of events scale, and a health-related quality of life questionnaire (HRQoL, RAND-36). Physicians registered clinicopathologic features and the number of outpatient clinic visits.
Sociodemographic and illness-related characteristics were equal in both groups. After 1-year follow-up, the ESG reported significantly less cancer-related stress response symptoms than the CSG (p = 0.01), and comparable anxiety, mental HRQoL, and cancer-related worry. Mean cancer-related worry and stress response symptoms decreased over time (p <0.001), whereas mental HRQoL increased over time (p <0.001) in all melanoma patients. Recurrence rate was 9 % in both groups, mostly patient-detected and not physician-detected (CSG 63 %, ESG 43 %, p = 0.45). Hospital costs of 1-year follow-up were reduced by 45 % in the ESG compared to the CSG.
This study shows that the stage-adjusted, reduced follow-up schedule did not negatively affect melanoma patients' mental well-being and the detection of recurrences compared with conventional follow-up as dictated by the Dutch guideline, at 1 year after diagnosis. Additionally, reduced follow-up was associated with significant hospital cost reduction.