Melanoma (skin cancer) – how a skin-check can keep you alive

Written by: Dr Ben Esdaile
Edited by: Top Doctors®

Around 13,500 people are diagnosed with melanoma in the UK each year. Skin cancer rates are more than four times higher than 40 years ago and it is the second most common cancer in people under the age of 50. The good news is that melanoma is completely curable if picked up early enough.

Our expert London dermatologist Dr Ben Esdaile explains how a regular check-up can prevent skin cancer…

The increase in melanoma is partly down to being able to diagnose skin cancer better but also due to the ease of foreign travel and sun exposure, which are just as likely to be a big factor.


What causes melanoma?

It appears to be a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors including sun exposure, family history, how easy a patient’s skin burns and having many moles. Many skin cancers develop where they can be seen, which means there is a good chance of catching them early.

Symptoms of skin cancer

The common signs of melanoma include a new unusual mole or a change in an existing mole such as:

  • increase in size
  • change in shape
  • change in colour
  • bleeding or crusty
  • itchy and sore

Melanomas most commonly appear on the legs of women and on the backs of men but they can appear anywhere on the body including under the nails.


How does a dermatologist diagnose melanoma?

A dermatoscope is a handheld device that allows structures in the skin to be seen that are not seen with the naked eye. Early melanoma has certain structures that can be seen using the dermatoscope and help identify it earlier. It can also help pick up other types of skin cancer. It is the gold standard in screening moles and there is clear evidence it helps pick up melanoma earlier as well as reduce the unnecessary removal of innocent moles.


A full skin-check for melanoma

All of the moles on the body, from head to toe, are examined to detect signs of skin cancer. Other types of skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma can be detected during this procedure also.


Treatment for melanoma

The treatment for skin cancer depends on the type, the stage and the patient’s general health.


Can melanoma be prevented?

The most important way to prevent skin cancer is sun protection. Do not allow the skin to burn, never use sunbeds and protect skin with clothes and broad spectrum sunscreen when exposed to sunlight. Ideally, have an annual professional skin check up with dermoscopy.

By Dr Ben Esdaile

Dr Ben Esdaile is a prominent London dermatologist specialising in both adult and paediatric dermatology. He has a particular interest in the early diagnosis and surgery of skin cancer and lectures both nationally and internationally on dermoscopy (a tool used to detect skin cancer). He also has a special interest in psoriasis, eczema, acne and rosacea.

Dr Esdaile undertook his medical training at Imperial College London and qualified with distinction in medicine and surgery in 2003. Prior to this, he successfully completed a BSc in biochemistry at King's College London in 1998. The esteemed dermatologist would then go on to obtain two notable achievements: gaining his diploma from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (DRCOG) in 2008, as well as his Dermatology Specialty Certificate Examination, which he successfully completed in 2010. 

Dr Esdaile, who also possesses a high level of expertise in sun allergies, vitligo, warts, angioma, cellulitis, and atopic dermatitis, pursued and completed his specialist training in dermatology in Oxford. He has a full-time NHS consultant post at the Whittington Hospital in North London and is involved in both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. He has published in multiple peer-review journals and has won an NHS clinical excellence award. He also works privately at the Highgate Hospital, Chase Lodge Hospital and at Skin 55 on Harley Street.

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