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Skin cancer guidelines to help doctors spot problems

NICE guidance aims to cut deaths from melanomas

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

GPs will be helped to identify and direct people to the right treatment for the most serious form of skin cancer in new guidance published today by NICE.

NICE’s first ever guideline on melanoma is designed to reduce the numbers of people dying from the disease and address the wide variations across the country in diagnosis and treatment.

Melanoma is the third most common skin cancer in the UK and is responsible for more cancer deaths than all other skin cancers combined. Over the last 30 years, rates of malignant melanoma in Britain have risen faster than any of the current 10 most common cancers.

Currently, around 13,300 cases of malignant melanoma are diagnosed every year in the UK and around 2,100 people died from the disease in 2012.

NICE’s guideline focuses on:

  • assessing and managing melanoma
  • working out how far it has progressed (staging)
  • identifying treatments for each stage of the disease, including when the cancer has spread
  • best follow-up care after treatment

It recommends there be improved, preferably nationally standardised, information made available to all patients with melanoma.

This information should be appropriate to the patients’ needs at that point in their diagnosis and treatment and should be repeated with the information given specific to the type of lesion, type of treatment, local services and any choice within them.

The guidance contains detailed information about the exact size of melanomas so that clinicians can identify the precise stage it has reached to help decide what action is needed.

It also recommends that all pigmented skin lesions that are either referred for further assessment or identified during follow-up in secondary or tertiary care are assessed using dermoscopy carried out by healthcare professionals trained in this technique.

Professor Mark Baker, director of NICE’s centre for clinical practice, said: “At this time of year, we all want to get out there and enjoy the sun, and there are plenty of ways to do that safely: using a sunscreen with a high SPF, spending time in the shade between 11am – 3pm, ensuring you don’t burn, and covering up with a hat, t-shirt and sunglasses. But, overexposure to ultraviolent light from the sun can have very serious repercussions.

“Melanoma causes more deaths than all other skin cancers combined. Its incidence is rising at a worrying rate – faster than any other cancer.

“If it is caught early, the melanoma can be removed by surgery. If it is not diagnosed until the advanced stages, it may have spread, so it is harder to treat. However, there are a number of options available to help slow the progress of the disease and improve quality of life.

“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.”

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