Skin cancer is a scary subject. No one wants to think about developing a disfiguring, and potentially deadly disease. Most people know they are supposed to be checking their skin monthly for changes that might be cancer, but they aren’t exactly diligent about it. It’s something that gets put off for later, often indefinitely.
But skipping the skin scans can be dangerous. There have been significant advances in the treatment of skin cancer, including the deadly types, but we know that the front-end things—detection, diagnosis and immediate treatment—are still critical. In fact, despite the fact that skin cancer is among the simplest types of cancer to identify since it’s visible on the outside of the body, the rates continue to rise. And while non-melanoma cancers have a relatively good prognosis, melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, can quickly become lethal.
The truth is that checking your skin regularly, and making an appointment to have your dermatologist do the same, is the best and only way to catch skin cancer before it spreads. For the past twenty-five years, we’ve told people to pay attention to the ‘ABCDs’ of pigmented skin irregularities. Asymmetry, border irregularity, color variation, and diameter more than 6 mm (about ¼ inch). These are still the key to identifying a problem growth among a bunch of innocuous looking freckles and moles.
Rules of Skin Cancer Screening
Here are some guidelines to follow when it comes to skin cancer screenings:
- Make it a habit to check your skin at home. We recommend checking yourself, head to toe, once a month. That means stripping down to your birthday suit and looking over every inch of skin, even in areas where you’ll need a hand mirror to get a good look. Many cases of melanoma and other cancers develop on the scalp. These cancers can be deadly, but unfortunately, most people don’t check the tops of their heads very often. Be sure to check the palms of your hands, your nails, and the soles of your feet, too.
- Know what is normal. In most cases, a normal mole is an even brown, tan, or black color, which can be either flat or raised, round or oval. Some moles are present at birth and others develop during childhood or even later in life, especially in areas that get lots of sun. Once a mole is there, it will most likely stay the same size, shape and color. Some moles eventually fade and disappear. Almost everybody has moles, and almost all of those moles are harmless. But people with lots of moles, more than 50, are at a higher risk for skin cancer.What’s not normal: Flesh-colored, pearl-like bumps or pinkish or reddish patches of skin that flake or scale (or even bleed), which can be basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas.
- Pay attention to changes in your skin. Look for anything new, a new mark, or an old mark that looks different, as well as any new sensations in or around a freckle or mole. In some cases, the skin can become crusty or scaly, or start to feel itchy or even sore. Pay attention to any marks that change in color, size or shape, as well as marks that just look different from the other marks on your body. Spots on the skin come in all shapes and sizes, and not every mark you see will be cancer. But if you see something that really stands out, what dermatologists call an ‘ugly duckling’, be sure to tell your dermatologist in a timely manner.
- Schedule an annual skin check with your dermatologist. Most people should see the dermatologist once a year—and anyone who’s had skin cancer already or who has other significant risk factors should make it at least every six months. At this exam, the doctor will check your skin and discuss any changes that the two of you have found.
- Find a dermatologist who uses dermatoscopy technology. Also known as epiluminescence microscopy [ELM], or surface microscopy, this is a relatively new (and not-too-common) method of screening that’s extremely effective at identifying cancers, helping the doctor distinguish malignant lesions from benign ones. The dermatoscope uses polarized light and a magnifying lens to let us ‘see’ the skin more clearly. It significantly increases the accuracy of the exam, meaning we can detect problems much more reliably than with the naked eye.
At-Home Skin Exams are NOT a Substitute for Screenings at Your Dermatologist!
While self-skin exams are important, you must still undergo regular skin cancer screenings at your dermatologist. Contact us today to schedule your skin cancer screening. At Advanced Dermatology, PC, our board-certified dermatologists are experts at diagnosing and treating skin cancer. Our conveniently located offices welcome patients from Queens (Bayside, Flushing), Long Island – Nassau/Suffolk (Roslyn/Albertson, West Islip, Commack, East Setauket), New York City, Westchester County (Ossining), Bergen County, NJ, Union County, NJ, and all surrounding areas.