Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US. There are several different types of skin cancer, with melanoma being the deadliest. When detected early, most types of skin cancer have a high cure rate.
Screening for skin cancer has not yet proven to decrease the chance of dying. Consult with your doctor to determine if you are at high risk for skin cancer. It is also important to consult with your doctor in the event of any changes in your skin.
The skin changes naturally with age, and not all changes to the skin are cancerous. As such, there is currently no recommended routine screening for people who are at low risk and do not have a prior history of skin cancer. More research is needed to develop a method that directly improves survival rates.
Your doctor may recommend regular skin exams – a full-body exam performed by a trained doctor or nurse – if you do have a family or personal history of skin cancer or abnormal moles. In some cases, your doctor may take a skin biopsy of abnormal skin to look for signs of cancerous cells.
Skin exams are a visual, noninvasive procedure that may be performed by a doctor to identify potential signs of skin cancer. During a skin exam, your doctor will look for the following signs in moles on your skin:
Your doctor will also look at other skin lesions, growths, or other formations on your skin. In some cases, a biopsy may be taken. This biopsy can determine whether cancerous cells are present.
It is important to familiarize yourself with the normal appearance of your skin and regularly check your skin for any changes. Use a hand mirror for areas which are hard to see. If you see any unusual changes in your skin or suspicious-looking moles, let your doctor know.
There is currently no way to know who will develop skin cancer and who will not. Certain risk factors can increase the chance of developing skin cancer, but individuals without these risk factors may still develop skin cancer.
Risk factors for skin cancer include:
Some of these risk factors, such as genetics, cannot be changed. However, you can lower the risk factors you can control by practicing sun safety. If you have one or more of the risk factors listed above, speak with your doctor about whether routine skin cancer screening is recommended for you.
Being aware of skin changes is one of the best ways to know when to visit your doctor. Some skin changes are benign and will never become cancerous. Take note of new moles that appear on your body, or old moles that begin to change shape or size, and speak to your doctor about what you have noticed.