Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US. Annual skin exams are important in order to help prevent and catch skin cancer early. Especially at risk individuals are those with light skin or eyes, a history of skin cancer or precancerous lesions, or a family history of skin cancer. If you are at risk, you should get a skin exam twice a year. Survival rates for most types of skin cancer are very high if caught early, which is why everyone should see a dermatologist at least once a year.
Your dermatology practitioner will scan the complete surface of your skin. If you have a suspicious spot, skin patch, or unknown mole, it may be biopsied and sent to a lab to determine what it is. If lab results report an area to be precancerous, you will be called back into the office for minor surgery to remove the cancer cells from the site. Melanoma patients (and sometimes other skin cancer patients) will be referred to an oncologist for further follow up treatment.
A sore that doesn’t heal; a mole that changes color, size, or shape; unusual bumps or markings or a change in skin color or texture; something that looks like a scar in an area where you don’t recall an injury; any spot, mole, or freckle that looks different from the other markings on your body; a mole that is asymmetrical; a mole with ragged or irregular borders, or borders that seem to change or grow; a mole that is not the same color throughout; an extremely dark, almost black mole; redness or swelling beyond the border of a mole; a mole that suddenly becomes itchy, tender, or painful; a mole that looks “scabby” or bleeds.
Melanoma is the deadliest of skin cancers. Every hour an American dies of melanoma. It can appear anywhere, regardless of whether or not the area gets sun exposure and may appear suddenly. Often, the first symptom is a changing mole. It may appear on your palms, soles, or under your nails and can metastasize to other parts of your body if not treated.
The most common skin cancer is Basal Cell Carcinoma. It may appear in various forms: as a whitish or waxy bump, be flesh colored or pink, look like a scar, appear irritated, or may even be an open sore. This type of skin cancer appears most often in sun exposed areas.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer and is considered a tumor of the skin. It may appear scabbed or crusty, or it may be a firm, red nodule. It usually shows up in an area that gets a lot of sun and may spread to other parts of the body if it is not caught and treated.
Protect yourself from UV rays, avoid tanning beds, wear mineral sunscreen, cover your skin, and limit sun exposure. Never skip your annual skin exam! Depending on your plan, this exam is often covered by insurance as it is a necessary step in preventing cancer before it spreads.
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