Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon. Additionally, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. What’s confounding, however, is that while the incidence of skin cancer is high, it is actually the most preventable type of cancer.
Wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 along with following sun avoidance practices are the primary ways to prevent skin cancer. In addition to these primary measures, receiving annual skin cancer screening exams from a board-certified dermatologist are crucial for the health of your skin. In this post, we’ll discuss the importance of annual skin cancer screenings and why they are key to early detection, treatment, and cure of all three types of skin cancer.
Which types of skin cancer can screenings detect?
There are three main types of skin cancer, which include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. All three types can be detected through a skin cancer screening performed by a board-certified dermatologist.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are the most common forms of skin cancer and together they are known as nonmelanoma skin cancer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, with early detection and proper treatment, the cure rate for both is about 95 percent. While melanoma is less common, it is more aggressive and has a higher mortality rate. However, when melanoma is detected before it spreads, it also has a high cure rate. (AAD) During an annual skin cancer screening, a board-certified dermatologist will be able to detect signs of all three of the main types of skin cancer.
What do dermatologists look for during a screening?
A screening involves a trained physician visually inspecting the patient’s skin for the characteristic signs of each type of skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma typically presents as a pearly translucent bump or a red patch of skin. While BCC can form anywhere on the body, it most commonly occurs on the head, neck, and arms.
Squamous cell carcinoma most commonly presents as a crusted or scaly patch of skin or a red bump. SCC tends to form on skin that is frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, arms, chest, back, and rim of the ear. Furthermore, SCC can grow deep in the skin, leading to damage and disfigurement. (AAD)
Melanoma is a malignant tumor of the melanocytes, which are the cells that produce pigment. This type of skin cancer frequently develops in a mole or can appear as a new dark spot on the skin, presenting as an irregularly shaped and/or colored mole.
Since melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, it is also recommended that patients perform self-exams. When performing a self-exam for irregular moles that may be an indication of melanoma, look for the “ABCDEs”:
- Borders that are irregular
- Color that is varied
- Diameter that is larger than the size of a pencil eraser
- Evolution, or change, in any of these characteristics over time
According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, a study in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute demonstrated that skin self-exams could reduce the risk of advanced disease among melanoma patients and potentially decrease melanoma mortality by up to 63 percent. Physicians’ skin exams are likewise effective: The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that melanomas found by physicians tend to be thinner (thus at an earlier stage, and more easily cured) than those found by patients.
What can you expect during an annual skin cancer screening?
Annual skin checks are noninvasive and do not require a machine scan. Rather, annual skin cancer screenings involve a trained physician who specializes in skin disease looking you over scalp to toes. While primary care physicians do offer skin cancer screenings, dermatologists have more specialized training in skin health that includes the diagnosis and management of skin cancers.
When you see a dermatologist for a complete skin exam, expect a 10 to 15 minute visit. The visit will include a review of your medical history and a head-to-toe skin examination. An annual skin cancer screening is a good time to ask about any spots that you are worried about; your dermatologist can educate you about what to look for, such as any changes in the size, color, borders, or shape of a mole. (The Skin Cancer Foundation)
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jessica Krant recognizes the importance of annual skin cancer screenings for early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of this devastating disease. Dr. Krant provides both regular skin cancer screenings and full body exams in her New York office Art of Dermatology at the Laser and Skin Surgery Center.