Dermatologist Chris Quirk wants melanoma screening.

A leading Perth dermatologist is calling for a melanoma screening program for people with moles or a family history of the skin cancer amid concerns melanomas are being picked up too late.

Chris Quirk says melanomas are becoming thicker at the time of diagnosis, suggesting people are presenting later when the prognosis is worse.

A study by Dr Quirk and colleagues published in the Australasian Medical Journal last week warns that the current "sun safe" message is not enough, because some melanomas do not appear to be linked to sun exposure.

Of 378 cases of malignant melanoma studied, 70 per cent of patients reported a history of sunburn, 40 per cent had multiple moles and 22 per cent had a family history of the skin cancer.

The researchers said sunburn was not an essential part of melanoma development so sun exposure should not be the sole focus of public awareness campaigns.

People with moles or a family history of melanoma might be ignorant of their heightened risk, they said.

Dr Quirk said while health authorities did not recommend community-wide melanoma screening, he believed a targeted screening program aimed at people at higher risk was necessary.

Cancer Council WA director of education and research Terry Slevin said melanoma rates in younger-age groups were coming down, which suggested skin cancer education campaigns were working.

He said many campaigns had already acknowledged risk factors such as family history, or having certain skin types.

"Skin cancer prevention is a complex issue, from risk factors to UV levels, vitamin D and early detection," Mr Slevin said.

"The opinions of a knowledgeable dermatologist like Dr Quirk are valued but the skin cancer prevention story is both a proven success and one that required more resources, as it's estimated that by next year we'll be spending well in excess of $1 billion treating skin cancer."

Mr Slevin said a new book bringing together leading experts in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer, which would include myths and facts about sunscreen, was being published by the CSIRO later this year.

The West Australian

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