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Cancer charity worker’s melanoma caught early thanks to colleague

A North Yorkshire cancer charity worker’s potentially deadly melanoma was caught early when a fellow volunteer spotted it on her arm.

And Margaret Redfern’s cancer was swiftly diagnosed thanks to new technology bought for GPs by York Against Cancer, the charity for which she and her friend Ann Woodward work.

Upper Poppleton residents Ann and Margaret have run York Against Cancer’s shop in York Hospital on Friday afternoons for eight years, becoming firm friends in the process.

It was during one such Friday afternoon that Ann noticed a mole on the back of Margaret’s arm.

“I had seen it for a while, and I asked my daughter, ‘Do you think I should tell her to go to the doctor?’ and she said that I should.”

Margaret said: “Ann was nattering to me about this mole on my arm that I couldn’t see. She kept on about it so in the end I thought I would go to the GP.”

Margaret’s GP, Dr Jo Simpson of Upper Poppleton surgery, examined her with a dermatoscope, a new instrument bought by York Against Cancer for use in GP practices in the Vale of York.

The dermatoscope takes clear, detailed pictures of suspicious lesions for doctors to send electronically to hospital dermatologists for analysis.

The pictures help to quickly distinguish between patients with benign conditions and those who need hospital assessment and/or treatment, sparing many people unnecessary hospital appointments.

Margaret was called in to hospital to have her mole removed.

“I was told it was a melanoma, but it wasn’t too deep, it was on the low scale,” Margaret said. “They took a lymph node and apparently it was clear. I have to have three-monthly checks now for five years; I have told Ann that it’s all her fault!”

Ann said: “I was really surprised when I heard that it was cancer. I didn’t think it would be, but you just never know. It’s great that she is clear now.”

Dr Dan Cottingham, a local GP and NHS Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group’s Macmillan Cancer Lead, said: “The CCG has been working with York Against Cancer since 2016 and is extremely grateful for their involvement and financial support in supplying 57 dermatoscopes for use at GP surgeries in the Vale of York area. We continue to supply training to all GPs to improve the quality of the pictures and aid in the diagnostic process.

“Cancer was identified by Vale of York residents as being among the most important topics when the CCG asked them ‘what is important about local healthcare services?’ at our ‘big conversation’ engagement events last year.

“The CCG has reflected this view in its 2018-19 commissioning intentions and is working closely with the Humber Coast and Vale Cancer Alliance and providers to implement the changes needed to achieve the ambitions of the national cancer strategy and the NHS Constitution cancer targets.”

Dr Andy Muinonen-Martin, a consultant dermatologist who is skin cancer lead at York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the Honorary Consultant Dermatologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust’s melanoma clinic, spearheaded the project.

He said: “The system developed in the Vale of York is far ahead of what is on offer for patients in many other areas. We have pioneered the process for using this technology in York.

 “We are very proud of this referral model and other trusts in the region are developing similar systems as a result.

“Skin cancer is common and we are in the middle of an epidemic. Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and there are high numbers here compared to other countries. There is a perfect storm due to this epidemic and a static dermatology workforce, so we need to use technology and processes like this to innovate to address this.

“It was great that Ann was able to talk to her friend Margaret about the mark, particularly because it was in a difficult place for her to see.

“By bringing it to Margaret’s attention she was able to go to her GP, who was then able to take high-quality images through the dermatoscope and send them through and she has a very good prognosis.

“Had Ann not spotted it, it might not have been seen until much later and it could have been much more serious.

“Detecting skin cancers early like this is essential as many are curable at this stage and the surgery required leaves much smaller scars.”

Professor Steve Leveson, Chairman of York Against Cancer, said: “We are committed to improving the patient experience. We were happy to be able to fund the dermatoscopes as they always struck us as a good, value-for-money investment. Dermatoscopes hopefully shorten waiting times and improve the patient’s journey.”

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