Skin cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the United States. The American Cancer Society reports more than 5 million cases of basal and squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed yearly, with nearly 10,000 new skin cancer cases discovered daily.
It’s impossible to avoid the sun completely. However, continual sun protection and skin checks can radically reduce your risk of developing a dangerous form of skin cancer.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with your skin to easily recognize any suspicious changes. Periodic self-evaluations should be a part of your routine, particularly if you have a history of sunburn or a high risk of developing skin cancer (family history of cancer or very fair skin).
Here are some tips for performing a skin check:
- Stand in front of a mirror in a well-lit room.
- Be sure to look at the entire body from head to toe, including the scalp, the back of the neck, the back, between the buttocks, and the soles of the feet.
- As you look at your skin, look for any changes in size, shape, color, or texture in any moles, birthmarks, or freckles. Pay special attention to any growths with an irregular shape or color, areas of skin that are tender, itchy, or bleeding, or moles that have changed size or shape over time.
- Take note of any changes that you find, and be sure to mention any changes to your doctor.
While self-checks should not be considered a substitute for dermatologist-administered skin evaluations, periodic skin self-assessments can alert you to small changes that shouldn’t wait for an annual screening. If you find any skin changes, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist for a medical exam.
Have a Dermatologist Check Your Skin
A skin cancer screening at a dermatologist is an important step in keeping your skin healthy. At the appointment, the doctor will generally perform a head-to-toe examination of your skin. They will look for any suspicious spots or moles and check for any changes in existing moles. Your doctor may also use a special tool, like a dermatoscope, to better view the moles and check for any signs of skin cancer.
You will be asked questions about your family history and any changes to moles or spots that you have noticed. Your doctor may ask you to monitor any suspicious moles and report back to them if you notice any changes.
Your doctor might also take a biopsy of any concerning moles or spots, which involves taking a small tissue sample. A lab will analyze and test the sample for cancer.
At the end of the appointment, your doctor will discuss the examination and biopsy results, if needed, and explain what to do if any further treatment is necessary.
Preventing skin cancer requires a multi-faceted approach
to sun protection. You might think applying sunscreen isn’t necessary if you don’t spend much time outdoors, but ultraviolet radiation can be quite sneaky.
You can reduce your risk by following the following sun safety tips:
- Wear sunscreen daily. Even if you spend most of your day working indoors, you could be exposed to unfiltered UV radiation if you work near a window or have a long drive to work. Wearing a good, broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) will shield you from inadvertent UV exposure.
- When it comes to sunblock, more is more! Most people don’t use enough sunscreen. Your face and neck require approximately one teaspoon of sunscreen for thorough coverage. For full body protection, you’ll need at least two tablespoons to shield yourself from head to toe.
- Wear clothes with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 50+. If it’s not practical to slather your whole body with sunscreen, wearing long-sleeved sun-protective clothing is an excellent alternative. Choose garments with a UPF label to ensure you get the proper protection. Also – don’t forget sunglasses! Choose a UV-blocking, wrap-around pair for maximum coverage.
- Stay in the shade. A shady spot can screen out a significant amount of UV light, but it depends upon the quality of the material blocking the sun and the degree to which you are exposed to indirect light. Dense tree covers provide greater protection than single trees, and structures with side walls offer more protection than shade structures mounted on poles.
Skin cancer screenings are important for early detection, increasing your chances of successful treatment if any abnormalities are discovered. It's important to follow up with your dermatologist regularly to check for any changes, and to get a skin cancer screening at least once a year.