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Screening

Get more information on what screening is and the best way of picking up melanoma skin cancer early.

There is no national screening programme because:

  • melanoma is not very common, so many people would have unnecessary skin checks
  • the benefits don't outweigh the costs

Talk to your GP if you think you are at higher than average risk of melanoma.

What screening is

Screening means checking people for early signs of an illness before they have any symptoms.

Screening for cancer aims to find cancers as early as possible, when the chance of cure is highest. Or to prevent it from developing in the first place. 

Education programmes

The best way of picking up melanoma early is for people to know the signs of melanoma and go to their doctor if they have them. So in the UK, education programmes have been created.

The education programmes let people know if they are at risk of developing melanoma and tell them what to look out for. The programmes encourage people to go to their doctor if they notice a new mole or any changes in an existing mole.

Examining your moles

It is important to be familiar with the normal appearance of your skin and any moles you have. Then you will be able to spot any changes and have them checked by your doctor. This is particularly important if you:

  • are fair skinned
  • have a tendency to freckle or burn in the sun
  • have large or abnormal moles, or a lot of moles

You can get your partner to look at areas of skin that you can't see easily. Make sure you are familiar with the normal appearance of any areas that have been badly sunburned in the past.

About half of all melanomas diagnosed develop from existing moles. The rest grow on what was previously normal skin. So if you notice a new abnormal mole or one that seems to be growing quickly or changing, show it to your doctor.  

People at higher risk of melanoma

Some people have a higher than normal risk of developing melanoma. This includes people who have:

  • had a melanoma in the past
  • a family history of melanoma
  • many moles
  • had an organ transplant

If you have any of these, your doctor can refer you to a skin specialist (dermatologist) who can show you how to check your skin each month for abnormal moles. 

Some people have a much higher than normal risk of melanoma and should have regular checks by a skin cancer specialist. This includes people who:

  • have 2 family members with melanoma and also have a lot of large, irregularly shaped moles
  • were born with a very large mole (bigger than 20cm across)
  • have 3 or more people in their family diagnosed with melanoma or pancreatic cancer
  • have had more than 1 melanoma

Your skin cancer specialist or nurse can examine your skin. They are trained to look out for moles that may be starting to become cancerous. If you have any moles that could be a melanoma, they can remove them at the clinic. By removing suspicious moles early, they can prevent an invasive melanoma developing.

Last reviewed: 
14 Oct 2015
  • Revised guidelines for the management of cutaneous melanoma 2010

    JR Marsden and others

    British Journal of Dermatology, 2010. Vol 163

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