Why should I get screened for skin cancer?
Skin cancers are the most common cancer in the world. In the United States alone there will be more than 2 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed this year. Almost all of them will be one of these types:
- Basal (sounds the same as the herb basil) cell carcinoma.
- Squamous (rhymes with famous) cell carcinoma.
- Melanoma (the “bad” one)
These cancers show up in a wide variety of ways, so even the same type of skin cancer can look very different from person to person. Because of this, you can’t really just look at a picture (or google it) and tell if you have skin cancer.
The best way to tell if you have skin cancer is to see a dermatologist.
As long as these skin cancers are caught early, they can usually be cured.
The bottom line is that if you have a spot that is growing, changing shape, or bleeding and has been present for more than 2-3 weeks you should see a dermatologist right away for a skin cancer check. Sores that look like they should heal, but don’t after 2-3 weeks are also very suspicious.
What to expect at a skin cancer screening exam (AKA “skin check”):
You should come without any fingernail or toenail polish and without any makeup on.
Your medical history will be obtained with a focus on previous skin cancers; history of sun exposure, suntanning, and sunburns; and details of any new or changing lesions you are concerned about.
You will be asked to change into a gown. You may leave your undergarments on if you wish. One of Dr. Miller’s female assistants is always in the room with the examination of female patients. You will be examined head to toe.
The entire process usually takes about 10 minutes. People with large numbers of atypical or funny looking moles often take longer.
Lesions that are concerning are usually biopsied. Unless you are traveling, have an important social engagement, or something else that would preclude doing the biopsy during the visit, our practice is always to obtain necessary biopsies at the time of your visit. Biopsies of larger moles may require a return visit, but if Dr. Miller is truly concerned that a spot is a melanoma, the time will be always be made so that he can obtain an excisional biopsy at the time of the visit.
Who definitely needs to have a skin cancer screening exam each year:
A head-to-toe examination by a dermatologist at least once a year is necessary if any of the following describe you:
- A personal history of any kind of skin cancer, including Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, or Melanoma
- A history of melanoma in two first-degree relatives (parents, siblings or children)
- Having a large number of atypical nevi and a family history of melanoma
- Having a very large number of atypical nevi
- Having a history of organ transplantation that requires immunosuppressive therapy
- Using certain medications long term, such as Azathioprine (often used for inflammatory bowel disease) or Gilenya (used for multiple sclerosis)
Other people who might want to consider a skin cancer screening exam:
People with a history of numerous sunburns, tanning bed exposure, or outdoor occupations should consider obtaining a complete skin examination. All of these things put you at higher risk for skin cancer.
The benefits of a skin cancer screening exam include:
- Identifying any worrisome lesions today, hopefully at a point where treatment is still fast and simple.
- Providing a useful baseline for your own self examination by having an expert provide you some context and understanding of the various lesions on your body.
- Help determine whether continued screening would likely be beneficial for you or not.
Why come to Miller Family Dermatology for your skin cancer screening exam:
- Assessment of lesions is performed using in-vivo microscopy or dermoscopy which increases the detection rate of skin cancers and decreases the number of biopsies performed of lesions that prove to be benign.
- Unless you have travel plans, a wedding, or going to be on TV later in the day we are usually able to perform any necessary biopsies at the time of your visit.
- In almost all cases your treatment can be performed here as well.