Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. Each year there are more skin cancers diagnosed than breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and lung cancer combined. Yet the average person does not know when or if to see a doctor for a skin cancer screening.
As it turns out, there isn’t a lot of data to support routine skin screenings in people with no history of skin cancer. This has led to some confusion regarding how often to screen, and who should do it. There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas grow very slowly, and rarely spread to other parts of the body. Thus they are usually curable regardless of when they are diagnoses. Melanoma, however, is the leading cause of mortality from skin cancer. And earlier diagnosis leads to better outcomes. So some type of screening is important.
So what should you do?
Check your skin monthly to look for any changes. You will need a full-length mirror and a hand mirror to check your entire body. This includes your scalp, your ears, and your hands and feet.
You are looking for:
New moles or growths, or change in existing moles or growths. Some concerning signs are:
- A spot that just won’t heal
- A mole or spot that looks different from your other moles
You should also be familiar with the ABCDs of melanoma:
- Asymmetry: if you draw a line through the mole, the two halves will not match.
- Border: the borders are uneven. They may appear scalloped or notched.
- Color: moles should be all one color. A variety of colors in a single mole is abnormal.
- Diameter: moles should be smaller than the head of a pencil eraser (5mm).
The average person does not need to see a Dermatologist or Plastic Surgeon regularly to have his or her skin examined, but you may want to have a skin examination done once so your doctor can point out any areas to keep an eye on. This is especially important if you have a family history of melanoma or if you have multiple abnormal moles. If you do have a history of skin cancer, I recommend having an annual skin examination by a doctor. This could be your Primary Care doctor, a Dermatologist, or a Plastic Surgeon.
Do you have a question about skin cancer? We would love to hear from you!