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New NHS guidelines on melanoma

This week, the BBC reports on new guidelines for diagnosing and treating melanoma skin cancers that have been issued to the NHS in England.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued the guidelines to help end “a wide variation in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease”. They include advice on diagnosing how far the cancer has progressed, on identifying the best treatment and suggest improvements to follow-up care.

 

The report quotes Prof Mark Baker, from NICE, who says: “This new guideline addresses areas where there is uncertainty or variation in practice, and will help clinicians to provide the very best care for people with suspected or diagnosed melanoma, wherever they live.”

However, he also emphasised that individuals are their own first line of defence when it comes to minimising risk, adding that “overexposure to ultraviolet light from the sun can have very serious repercussions”. He offered some easy-to-follow tips for enjoying the sun safely: “using a sunscreen with a high SPF, spending time in the shade between 11:00 and 15:00, ensuring you don’t burn, and covering up with a hat, T-shirt and sunglasses.”

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that causes more deaths than all other skin cancers combined. In 2012, there were more than 2,000 deaths from melanoma in the UK, and the number of melanoma cases is growing faster than any of the 10 most common cancers. It has been suggested that this increase is the result of the boom in sunny foreign holidays over the past 40 years, and the more recent widespread use of sunbeds.

Per Hall, Clinical Director at Check4Cancer and a pioneer in the early detection of melanoma, comments: “Melanoma is being encountered more frequently byboth specialists and GPs, so a more systematic approach within the NHS is to be welcomed. Interestingly, NICE also recommends the use of dermoscopy in the assessment of the lesions – already part of our routine practice at Check4Cancer.But Prof Baker’s advice on prevention remains critical. Sun exposure habits play a vital role in limiting risk. We now know, for example, that sunburn in adolescence can increase melanoma risk by 80%, and according to Cancer Research UK, getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple your risk of developing malignant melanoma.

“In spite of this, a recent survey of over a thousand people carried out by the British Association of Dermatologists revealed that 96% of us fail to check our skin the recommended once a month for skin cancer, and more than 77% would not recognise signs of the disease. More worrying still is the fact that 72% of people admitted they had been sunburned in the last year. Whilst it will be some years before we see the effects of any measures we take in terms of a reduction in melanoma deaths, we need to start taking the warnings of research such as this seriously, and regulate our own sun exposure – and that of our children – from the earliest possible age.”

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