The Importance of Skin Cancer Screenings
January 4, 2023 by Claire Ring
Skin cancer remains the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the United States. This makes sense given that our skin is the largest organ of the body. Anyone with skin can get skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the United States than all other cancers combined and more than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day through skin cancer screening
The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma. Melanoma is the most dangerous because of its ability to spread throughout the body if not removed quickly. 5.4 million cases of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed annually in this country, according to the American Cancer Society. Melanoma is diagnosed in roughly 100,000 Americans each year. Common risk factors for skin cancer include:
Common Risk Factors for Skin Cancer:
- Having a large number of moles.
- Having moles with a broad range of colors, sizes, and shapes.
- History of multiple, severe sunburns (especially blistering ones).
- Personal, or family, history of skin cancer.
- Previous indoor tanning bed use.
- Sun damage from outdoor tanning and recreation.
- Having fair skin, blond or red hair, blue eyes, and freckles.
- Having a weakened or suppressed immune system.
- Being over the age of 50.
While skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, it’s also one of the most preventable. That’s why having regular skin screenings is so important.
What is a Skin Cancer Screening and What is Its Purpose?
Each type of skin cancer can present differently. During regular skin screenings, dermatologists or skin care providers look for suspicious spots or growths that could be signs of skin cancer. They can also identify cancers in their earliest/smallest states and while confined to the skin only. This is crucial since skin cancers are highly treatable when detected early. In fact, many people with melanoma can be cured with their initial surgery. When to See a Doctor
What Can Patients Expect During a Screening
During a full-body screening, the dermatologist or provider will look at the skin from head to toe. This includes the scalp, between fingers and toes and in the genital areas. If a patient has noticed any moles or other growths that are new, changing or causing symptoms such as itching, pain or bleeding, they are encouraged to mention this specifically. The goal is to examine spots that look different from others, such as those with irregular borders, multiple colors or sizes larger than a pencil eraser diameter. A hand-held microscope instrument called a dematoscope is often used to inspect individual moles.
If anything clinically suspicious is found during the screenings, a biopsy may be performed to confirm whether or not it is cancerous. Biopsies, and newer non-invasive skin surface testing, can be used to make definitive diagnoses. If cancer is diagnosed, an individual treatment plan is created based on the patient’s needs. This could include Mohs surgery or other therapy options.
How Often Should a Skin Cancer Screening Be Completed?
The frequency of skin cancer screenings, as well as a patient’s age at first screening, depends on the risk factors they may have. There are no official recommendations from the American Cancer Society, but formal exams can range from a screening every year to as frequently as every three to six months. Skin cancer screenings can be done by self-examination as well, but are most effective when performed by a dermatology healthcare professional.
Even though skin cancer continues to be a widespread concern, patients can drastically increase their chances of early detection by keeping up on regular screenings from a dermatology healthcare professional.
About the Author
Meyer Horn, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Dermatology + Aesthetics, an affiliate of VitalSkin Dermatology. His special interests include inflammatory diseases of the skin, skin cancer screening, prevention and education, and surgical dermatology. If you’re experiencing signs of skin cancer or are overdue for your annual exam, we’re here to help! Give us a call to set up an appointment, and we can determine if (or what) treatment is needed.