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A Great New Year’s Resolution: Regular Skin Cancer Screening

A Great New Year’s Resolution: Regular Skin Cancer Screening

As we approach the new year, our board-certified dermatologists in Jupiter would like to suggest you add one particular item to your list of New Year’s resolutions: a skin cancer screening.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). One in every three cancers diagnosed is skin cancer. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

A skin cancer screening can help find cancer in its earlier stages when it’s easier to treat.

Of the many types of skin cancer, the three most common are:

  • basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
  • squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
  • melanoma

The ADD reports that BCC and SCC are the most common forms of skin cancer, but with early detection, their cure rate is about 95 percent. While melanoma is the most likely to spread to other parts of the body, when melanoma is detected before it spreads, it also has a high cure rate.

When to Get Screened

According to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) MedlinePlus, you may need a skin cancer screening if you have any of the following risk factors for skin cancer:

  • light skin tone
  • blond or red hair
  • light-colored eyes (blue or green)
  • skin that burns and/or freckles easily
  • a history of sunburns
  • family and/or personal history of skin cancer
  • frequent exposure to the sun through work or leisure activities
  • a large number of moles

Screenings of this type are used to look for signs of skin cancer, not to diagnose it for certain. If skin cancer is suspected during a screening, you will need a biopsy to find out whether it actually is cancer.

Do-it-yourself Screening

If none of the above conditions apply to you, you can screen yourself for skin cancer. Here’s how to do it, according to the AAD:

1. Examine your body in a full-length mirror, first front and back, then your right and left sides with your arms raised.

2. Look at your underarms, forearms, and palms.

3. Look at your legs, between the toes, and the soles of your feet.

4. Use a hand mirror to examine your neck and scalp. Part your hair for a closer look at your scalp.

5. Finally, use a hand mirror to check your back and buttocks.

What should you look for during this self-exam? These are the ABCs of skin cancer detection:

  • Asymmetry, in which one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half
  • Border irregularity, meaning the edges are ragged, notched, or blurred
  • Color: irregular pigmentation, shades of tan, brown, and black, bits of red, white, and/or blue, and “bleeding” of color from the mole itself into the surrounding skin
  • Diameter larger than the size of a pencil eraser (6 mm)
  • Evolution: change of shape, size, color, or symptoms (including bleeding or itching)

Professional Medical Screening

If you’re at higher risk for skin cancer as outlined above, we can perform a skin cancer screening for you, known as a total body skin exam (TBSE). The entire exam takes less than half an hour. 

We will begin with your scalp and work down your neck, chest, arms, and so forth, down to your toes, including your genitals and buttocks. This exam may be embarrassing, but it is necessary because skin cancer can occur anywhere on your skin.

We will also check for abnormalities on the lips, tongue, eyelids, and behind the ears. In other words, every part of the skin surface will be examined, even if it has never been exposed to the sun. We depend on the naked eye to perform the initial examination and use a magnifying tool to home in on any areas of concern.

Non- or pre-cancerous spots can be dealt with right there, using liquid nitrogen, a super-cold liquid that will be sprayed on the offending area to freeze the tissue. This results in a blister that will slough off within a few days. It is generally not painful and takes just a few seconds.

Any spots your physician finds that might be considered suspicious will result in a biopsy. This entails the injection of a local anesthetic (the only discomfort you’ll feel) before the spot is removed and sent to a lab for evaluation. Depending on the size of the lesion, you may receive either a Band-Aid or a stitch or two to close the wound. You can expect lab results within two weeks.

Remember that most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, whether from the sun, tanning beds, or sunlamps. To lower your risk of getting skin cancer, always use broad-spectrum sunscreen when outdoors or spending time near windows.