Guideline on deadliest form of skin cancer to reduce variation in care


NICE’s latest guideline aims to improve survival rates and reduce variation in the care of patients with melanoma, currently the fastest growing form of cancer.

The guideline covers the full pathway of care, and includes recommendations on managing low vitamin D levels, and the use of sentinel lymph node biopsy for staging.

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that occurs when cells in the skin develop abnormally. It accounts for more deaths from cancer than all other skin cancers combined.

The disease is linked to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light which is emitted by the sun and by sunbeds. Estimates suggest that up to 86 per cent of malignant melanomas could be caused by exposure to UV light.

Over the past 30 years rates of malignant melanoma have risen faster than any of the current ten most common cancers. Studies have linked the rising incidence with the increased sun exposure people are experiencing through repeated holidays abroad.

NICE’s guideline on melanoma focusses on staging, identifying treatments for each stage of the disease including when the cancer has spread, and outlines the best follow-up care after treatment.

Measure vitamin D levels at diagnosis

Since melanoma is linked to sun exposure, and around 10 per cent of patients with melanoma have a subsequent melanoma, clinicians often ask patients to reduce their contact with the sun at diagnosis.

However, in the UK where people get limited sun exposure, avoiding the sun can hamper the uptake of vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for keeping bones and teeth healthy, and a lack can lead to deformities such as rickets in children, and osteomalacia in adults which causes pain and tenderness.

Consequently, the guideline recommends that all people with melanoma should have their vitamin D levels measured at diagnosis in secondary care.

Measuring vitamin D levels at diagnosis allows doctors to identify people with melanoma whose vitamin D levels are low and who might benefit from supplements in line with national policies. It will also help identify people with high vitamin D levels who do not need supplementation and in whom supplementation might be harmful.

Knowing a person’s vitamin D level will also improve the accuracy of the advice given to them about the risks and benefits of sunlight exposure.