A simple statement, but the meaning behind it is strong. Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than combined cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer. Early diagnosis through a skin cancer screening can be the difference between life and death. According to American Cancer Society research, if melanoma is caught in stage one, the 5 year survival rate is 97%. Late detection survival rates can be as low at 15%.
What Happens in a Skin Cancer Screening?
Not knowing what occurs in a skin screening can be a bit unnerving to a first timer. A typical skin cancer screening is a simple 10 minute appointment where a dermatologist examines your body looking for any areas of concern.
A skin cancer screening starts out with you changing into a hospital style gown. When the dermatologist enters you will first discuss any areas of concern you may have. According to Dr. Michelle Cihla, board-certified dermatologist with Forefront Dermatology, “this is not a time to be shy, point out any areas that you have noticed changes. Remember, you know your skin the best because you see it every day and notice the new or evolving moles.” The doctor will examine each part of your skin, and may use a special magnifying glass with a light—called a dermatoscope—to examine certain suspicious spots. If a suspicious lesion is identified, you may need a biopsy.
Skin Cancer Doesn’t Discriminate.
Skin cancer knows no boundaries. While your chances of getting melanoma increase as you get older, it’s one of the most common cancers in young adults ages 25 to 29. There are certain factors that can increase your risk, but even if none of these apply to you it doesn’t mean you are safe.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. In fact, more skin cancers are diagnosed in the US each year than all other cancers combined. The good news is that skin cancer, when detected early, is highly treatable. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone practice monthly head-to-toe self-examinations of their skin, so that they can find any new or changing lesions that might be cancerous or precancerous.
Conduct these monthly skin self-evaluations at home in a well-lit room, in front of a full-length mirror. You may need a family member or a close friend to assist you to scan hard to view areas, such as your scalp and your back. Dr. Rachel Ade Koziczkowski, a board-certified dermatologist with Forefront Dermatology in Moline, Illinois, suggests, “This quick 10-minute procedure could be life-saving. You can have your dermatologist give you an initial lesson on performing a complete skin examination in your office at your annual skin-cancer screening appointment to learn how to perform one at home on your own.”
For additional resources to perform an at home skin-cancer screening, download the American Academy for Dermatology’s body mole map to document your self-examination, or the How to SPOT Skin Cancer™ Infographic so you know what to look for when checking your spots.
To perform an at home skin cancer self-examination, follow the steps below recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation. This will help you to monitor any changes in spots on your body and bring them to your dermatologist’s attention as early as possible.
Begin by examining your face, including your nose, lips, mouth, and ears. Do not forget the backs! Use your mirror and a secondary mirror if needed.
Inspect your scalp carefully selecting one section at a time. Use a comb or other tool to ensure that you examine each section. Have a friend or family member help you if possible.
Scan your hands carefully beginning with your palms and the backs of your hands. Carefully examine between your fingers and under your fingernails. Continue up the wrists to examine both the front and back of your forearms.
Standing in front of the full-length mirror, begin at the elbows and scan all sides of your upper arms. Don’t forget the underarms.
Next, focus on the neck, chest and torso. Women should lift breasts to view the undersides.
With your back to the full-length mirror, use the hand mirror to inspect the back of your neck, shoulders, upper back and any part of the back of your upper arms you could not view in step 4.
Still using both mirrors, scan your lower back, buttocks and backs of both legs.
Your Local Skin Cancer Experts at Forefront Dermatology are Here to Help If you notice a spot that is different from others, or that changes, itches or bleeds, make an appointment to see your local Forefront dermatologist — our experienced, collaborative team of board-certified dermatologists and fellowship-trained Mohs surgeons provide are the country’s top experts in skin cancer diagnosis and treatment.
While skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, it is also one of the most treatable and preventable. With early detection and proper treatment, skin cancer has a very high cure rate. While there is no sure way to guarantee you won’t get skin cancer, there are things you can do that can lower your risk.
The most important things you can do to protect yourself from skin cancer are to practice preventative care by following these tips.
Have an Annual Skin Cancer Screening A skin cancer screening is a visual inspection of your skin by a board-certified dermatologist specially trained to detect skin cancer in its earliest, most treatable stage. No blood work is conducted at a screening. You may be wondering what a skin cancer screening will be like and how long it will take. When you see your local Forefront dermatologist for a complete skin check-up, you can expect a 10-15 minute visit, including a review of your medical history and a head-to-toe skin examination. At this time, let your dermatologist know about any spots you are worried about; your dermatologist can teach you what to look for in the future if you’re not sure, such as any changes in the size, color, borders, or shape of a mole. Also remember that skin cancer may occur on any area of skin, NOT just where you have had sun exposure. Any notable changes in a mole should be checked out. Typically, a spot that the doctor suspects is cancerous will be biopsied. During a biopsy, a sliver of tissue is removed for evaluation by a pathologist, who confirms (or refutes) the dermatologist’s suspicions.
Conduct Monthly Skin Cancer Self-Evaluations The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone practice monthly head-to-toe self-examinations of their skin, so that they can find any new or changing lesions that might be cancerous or precancerous. Conduct these monthly skin self-evaluations at home. This quick 5-minute procedure could be life-saving. You can have your dermatologist give you an initial lesson on performing a skin examination and you can also learn how to perform one here. This will help you to monitor any changes in spots on your body and bring them to your dermatologist’s attention as early as possible.
Avoid Intentional Tanning and Using Indoor Tanning Beds Avoid intentional tanning of your skin and especially sunburn whenever possible. According to Dr. Mark Jackson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Forefront Dermatology in Louisville, Kentucky, “People who spend a great deal of time in the sun or allow their skin to burn have an increased risk of developing skin cancer. A sunburn or a tan causes damage to your skin that can show up many years later in the form of wrinkles and even skin cancer. Indoor tanning beds are just as dangerous, if not even more dangerous, than the regular sun because they expose your skin to dangerous UV Rays.” Stay indoors or look for shade in the middle of the day when UV radiation is strongest, usually between 10 AM and 4 PM. Seek shade under an umbrella, tree or other shelter to seek relief from the sun. Cover up with long-sleeved shirts, long pants, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses for the best protection against UV radiation.
Keep Children and Especially Newborns Out of the Sun According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, just one sunburn in childhood more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. Infants 0-6 months should be kept out of the sun completely. Their skin is too sensitive for sunscreen. Babies 6-12 months are now able to be exposed to very limited sun when completely protected by a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Protecting toddles and older children requires a little more thought and effort. It is important to educate your children and caregivers as well. Look for broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF 30 or higher. Water-resistant, spray-on sunscreens are a good choice for toddlers who won’t sit still. Spray sunscreens should not be applied directly to the face; sprays should be misted into the hands, and then spread on the face. Even in the fall and into the winter, it is still important to practice sun safety, especially for babies and children. Keep them indoors between 10 AM and 4 PM, cover them up with protective clothing, and stay in the shade whenever possible.
Continue Using Sunscreen Year-Round If you can’t cover up completely, be sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on all exposed skin throughout the year. Sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30 filters out ultraviolet rays, reducing the risk of sunburn. Adults and children should use a broad-spectrum sunscreen containing ingredients designed to filter dangerous ultraviolet rays, as recommended by Skin Cancer Foundation.
Your Local Skin Cancer Experts at Forefront Dermatology are Here to Help