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Melanoma screening

Men and women discussing melanoma skin cancer

This page is about why there is no UK screening programme for melanoma skin cancer. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Melanoma screening

At the moment there is no general screening programme in the UK for malignant melanoma. Melanoma is not a common cancer. So to regularly check everyone in the UK for abnormal moles would take a lot of time and money and would not diagnose many melanomas. So 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, education programmes have been set up to let people know who is at risk of developing melanoma, and the signs to look out for. 

Make sure you are familiar with the normal appearance of your skin and any moles you have. This is particularly important if you are fair skinned, have a tendency to freckle or burn in the sun, or have many moles on your skin. You can get your partner to look at areas of skin that you can't see easily. Pay particular attention to areas that have been badly sunburned in the past. If you think you have a mole that could be a melanoma, go to your GP.

People at higher risk of melanoma

You are at higher than normal risk of melanoma if you have had a melanoma diagnosed in the past, have a family history of melanoma, have many moles, or have had an organ transplant. Your doctor can refer you to a skin doctor (dermatologist) who can show you how to check your skin regularly (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 many abnormal 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

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the About melanoma section

 

 

Why there is no melanoma screening programme

Screening means looking for early signs of a particular disease in healthy people who do not have any symptoms. Screening for cancer aims to find cancers as early as possible, when the chance of cure is highest. Sometimes screening programmes can find changes that would lead to cancer if they were not treated. So cancer screening aims to prevent cancer or detect it at a very early stage.

At the moment there is no general screening programme in the UK for malignant melanoma. Melanoma is not a common cancer. So to regularly check everyone in the UK for abnormal moles or skin changes would take a lot of time and money and would not diagnose many melanomas. So 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.

 

Education programmes

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. You can find pictures of abnormal moles on this website.

 

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

You can get your partner to look at areas of skin that you can't see easily. Do 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.

There is information about what to look out for on the page about melanoma symptoms. If you think you have a mole that could be a melanoma, go to your GP. Your GP may then refer you to a specialist clinic to have it looked at and possibly removed. There is information about this in the section about diagnosing melanoma. There are guidelines on referral for melanoma, to help GPs in the UK decide which patients need to be seen urgently by a specialist.

 

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

If you have any of these, your doctor can refer you to a skin doctor (dermatologist) who can show you how to check your skin regularly (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 beginning to become cancerous. If you have any moles that could be a melanoma, they can be removed at the clinic and examined in the laboratory. By removing suspicious moles early in this way, they can prevent an invasive melanoma developing.

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Updated: 11 April 2014