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Skin Cancer Awareness Month – campaigning for early detection through education

Posted: 24/05/2018

Skin Cancer Awareness Month is an annual campaign that takes place every May. The aim is to raise awareness of the dangers of unprotected sun exposure and educate the public about how to help prevent skin cancer.

UV exposure from the sun is one of the main causes of skin cancer and also one of the most preventable. This campaign hopes to reduce instances of skin cancer and increase the likelihood of early detection through education.

During the month, people who have been affected by skin cancer are encouraged to get involved by sharing their stories on all forms of social media using the hashtag #MySkinCancerJourney. Everyone is invited to share information about sun safety, skin cancer prevention and early detection with friends and family. Special awareness classes will be available in many schools, and there will be an increase in stories around this theme in the media.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, with more than 100,000 new cases diagnosed each year, resulting in more than 2,500 deaths per year. This equates to seven deaths every day on average. There are several different types of skin cancer but for all forms, as well as limiting UV exposure, catching it early often allows for more treatment options and a better prognosis for recovery. In addition to being safe in the sun, it is therefore crucial to be proactive and have suspicious moles and lesions checked by a medical professional to facilitate early diagnosis.

Melanoma is the second most common cancer in adults aged 25-49 and the major risk factor of this disease is exposure to UV radiation, especially associated with the occurrence of sunburns. GPs across the country see many thousands of skin lesions every year, most of which will be benign, but among them will be about 15,000 melanomas requiring accurate and timely diagnosis so that patients can be treated promptly. Early stage diagnosis of melanoma seems to be the key in improving the survival rates and so a delay can have significant consequences.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has provided guidance to help reduce the risk of delayed and missed melanoma. The key recommendation is that if melanoma is suspected, or where the nature of the lesion is uncertain, a two-week wait referral to a specialist should be made. 

Elise Bevan, senior associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP, said: “Despite these NICE guidelines, we have come across a number of cases where there are concerns that the GP does not possess the sufficient knowledge of melanomas required to identify the signs and symptoms and make the referral, or where patients have waited longer than the recommended two weeks between referral and seeing a specialist. We have also been involved in cases where the pathology, following a biopsy, was reviewed and reported as being non-cancerous but then later investigations confirmed that it was in fact cancer and the pathologist had failed to perform the correct laboratory testing.

“Late diagnosis makes treatment less likely to succeed and reduces a patient’s chances of survival because by that point the disease has already reached an advanced stage. Over the last few years there have been calls for heavier NHS investment in renewed efforts to spot cancer more quickly, and while there have been improvements, Britain still has one of the worst records in Europe for both identification of cancer and survival from it. Early diagnosis would save the NHS tens of millions of pounds through reduced need for costly treatments, as well as enhancing chances of survival. 

“Our message is that earlier diagnosis saves lives and it could save critical NHS funds. In the face of an overstretched NHS and a projected growing number of cancers diagnosed in the years ahead, we need to do everything we can to ensure that all patients have access to the best treatment as early as possible.”

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP