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With the summer fast approaching it is important that we look after our skin by protecting ourselves from sunlight exposure, in order to minimise the risk of developing skin cancer. However, if you do suspect you have a melanoma, do you know what should happen next?
Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that usually starts in the skin and can originate from a mole, however around half of all melanomas start in normal-looking skin.
Research conducted by Macmillan suggests that the number of people developing melanomas is on the rise with about 14,500 people in the UK being diagnosed just in 2013. Over the last decade, the number of people diagnosed with melanoma in the UK has increased by almost half.
People with dark skin are much less likely than people with fair skin to get melanoma. This is because their skin has more natural protection and has fewer melanocyte cells than people with pale skin. In the UK, melanomas are slightly more common in women than in men.
Other risk factors include:
Recent NICE guidance outlines a number of recommendations in relation to sun exposure, including:
Although most of the above recommendations are likely to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer, it is important to remember that you need to stay vigilant as, unfortunately, these steps alone are unlikely to completely eliminate the risk. It is therefore important that you recognise the signs of skin cancer and seek medical attention at the earliest opportunity.
There are a number of signs to look out for if you have concerns about a mole or irregularity. The NHS choices website has a useful ABCDE checklist, to assist with telling the difference between a normal mole and one that may be melanoma, detailed below:
Asymmetrical – melanomas have two very different halves and are an irregular shape;
Border – unlike a normal mole, melanomas have a notched or ragged border;
Colours – melanomas will be a mix of two or more colours;
Diameter – unlike most moles, melanomas are larger than 6mm (0.25in)
Enlargement or elevation – a mole that changes characteristics and size over time is more likely to be melanoma.
If you are concerned about a particular mole or changes in your skin after considering the above checklist, it is important that you seek advice from your GP urgently as they will be able to offer assistance and make the necessary referral for further investigations.
It is well recognised that GP’s are under enormous time pressure. In June 2005 guidance from NICE put in place a seven point scoring system to ensure that GP’s refer on cases promptly to a specialist if a patient has some of the following characteristics.
Each of the above features score one point, if a patient scores three points or more your GP must make an urgent referral within two weeks for further investigations.
Patients are usually referred to dermatology in the first instance, and an excision is made and a biopsy is then performed upon the tissue. This is then sent to the laboratory to determine whether or not the lesion is cancerous. If it is then further treatment may be required.
My colleagues and I often see cases where our clients have suffered a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis of melanoma due to negligent failings in their medical treatment, for example where the patient’s GP fails to consider the possibility of cancer diagnosis and does not make the required referral. Delayed diagnosis can lead to the cancer advancing, requiring more extensive treatment and a worse prognosis for the patient.
If you or a member of your family has been affected by a delayed or misdiagnosis and would like to discuss this further then please contact a member of the Clinical Negligence team.