To say that a skin cancer screening is important is a bit of an understatement. It is during your regular skin cancer screening that your board-certified dermatologist can detect cancer at an early stage, when the chance of a cure is high. For those who have a greater risk for skin cancer – including people who have many moles, irregular moles, or a personal or family history of skin cancer – a periodic skin cancer screening is even more critical.
Skin cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in the United States and around the world, with basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma being the three most common skin cancers. Of the three, melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, affecting about 100,000 Americans each year. Early diagnosis is the key to surviving melanoma.
Do I Really Need a Skin Cancer Screening?
In a word, yes. A regular skin cancer screening allows for early detection, when the skin cancer is still small and confined to the skin. When detected early, skin cancers are highly treatable, and the chance of a cure is greater. When caught early, melanoma is often cured in a single surgery.
What are the Risk Factors for Skin Cancer?
If you have any of the factors below, then your risk of skin cancer is heightened and the need for a regular skin cancer screening grows.
- Having many moles
- Having moles that look different from other moles in color or shape
- Having a personal or family history of skin cancer
- Previous indoor tanning use
- Severe sun damage
- Having fair skin, blond or red hair, blue eyes, and freckles
- Having a weakened or suppressed immune system
If you have any of these risk factors, then talk to your doctor and consider scheduling a screening with a board-certified dermatologist. In addition, if you notice any abnormal changes on your skin that are new, changing, or uncomfortable, or have wounds that won’t heal, make an appointment with a dermatologist right away.
What Happens During a Skin Cancer Screening?
During your skin cancer screening at one of our MetroDerm locations, your dermatologist will examine your skin from the top down. This includes examining your scalp, between your fingers and toes, and everywhere in between. You’ll be asked if you’ve noticed any moles or other lesions that are new, changing, or causing symptoms – such as itching or pain; those areas will be examined closely.
If the dermatologist spots lesions that look different than others (including ones that have irregular borders, multiple colors, or are bigger than six millimeters in diameter), then a closer examination will be conducted with a dermatoscope, which is a handheld device that is the dermatologist’s equivalent of a magnifying glass.
Depending on what your dermatologist finds, he or she might recommend a biopsy, which involves taking a sample of skin to evaluate for cancer. A biopsy takes just a few minutes to perform, and the biopsy wound should heal in one to two weeks. The biopsy will be sent to a lab for testing, and if the results determine that the biopsy is cancerous, then your dermatologist will arrange for additional treatment, which might include surgery. If the skin cancer is more advanced or if there is evidence that the cancer has spread to other areas of your body, then you will be referred to an oncologist for further treatment.
Do I Need an Annual Skin Cancer Screening?
The answer to that question depends on which risk factors you have, including your number of moles, your number of complex or atypical moles, your family history of skin cancer, your own history of melanoma, and your age. If you are at minimal risk, then you might only need to be screen every couple of years. If you are at considerable risk, then your dermatologist might schedule a screening every three to six months.
How Can I Minimize My Risk of Skin Cancer?
First, protecting your skin from the sun – and its ultraviolet radiation – is the best way to prevent skin cancer. As such, try to avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s UV radiation is fiercest. Regardless of the time of day, if you are outside in the sun, cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. You should also avoid outdoor sunbathing or using an indoor tanning bed.
Second, examine your skin regularly for any new moles or lesions or changes in existing moles. If you notice any changes, call us right away to schedule an appointment.
Third, remember the “ABCDE rule” when looking for the warning signs of melanoma in moles.
- A: Asymmetrical, meaning the mole is misshapen
- B: Borders that are uneven or with notches or scallops
- C: Colors such as brown, tan, or black inside a mole
- D: Diameter greater than six mm
- E: Evolving in size, shape, color, or elevation