Skin Checks for Cancer Prevention and Detection
Did you know that it’s recommend you get your skin checked professionally every 12 months to ensure healthy skin?
The physician and nursing team at Pacific Dermatology & Cosmetic Center have advanced training in the area of skin cancer diagnosis and treatment. We use the latest methods of care, including localized therapies and surgery such as Mohs Micrographic Surgery, as needed to remove skin cancer. If you suspect you may have skin cancer, you can expect personalized care from an understanding and compassionate medical team; this is what we specialize in.
Why you Need Routine Skin Cancer Screenings
Skin cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer to be diagnosed today. It is estimated that more than one million new cases are diagnosed every year, and that more than 10,000 deaths occur annually as a result of this disease. The benefit of ongoing research has been the development of guidelines for prevention and early diagnosis. Research has demonstrated a clear value to early detection, with most skin cancers treated successfully when found in early stages. We encourage our patients to schedule routine skin cancer screenings every six to 12 months. During your visit with us, we will suggest a recall visit schedule based on your skin type and genetic and lifestyle factors.
In recent years, it has become increasingly easy to locate information relating to skin cancer detection. A quick trip through the internet is all it takes to find images and guidelines such as the ABCDE's of skin cancer. While it is beneficial to perform self-examinations on a monthly basis, this is only one part of the whole. Your dermatologist has the extensive knowledge and familiarity with skin cancer lesions to help you become familiar with your own skin, and to quickly treat skin cancer with conservative care.
If you have a history of melanoma, you benefit immensely from lifelong dermatologic surveillance. Routine skin cancer screenings provide us the opportunity to "map" your skin; to know your "normal." It enables us to quickly notice changes to existing growths, or the development of new, potentially abnormal ones.
Why are skin cancer screenings important?
One million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the various forms of skin cancer every year. Skin cancer can affect anyone, regardless of skin color. Melanoma rates have doubled in the U.S. between 1982 and 2011. While melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas can be very disfiguring. The survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 99 percent.
Now you can see the logic behind yearly skin cancer screenings with the team at Pacific Dermatology & Cosmetic Center. The key is to catch any skin cancer, but particularly melanoma, early. That’s why it is wise to have your skin checked yearly. People who are at higher risk for melanoma (see risk factors) or who have already had melanoma should have their skin checked twice yearly.
Am I at risk for skin cancer?
Exposure to natural and artificial ultraviolet light is a risk factor for all types of skin cancer. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma results from accumulated UV exposure over time. Melanoma also develops from accumulated UV rays, but also from scorching sunburns.
• One blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence (and most of us have had a few) doubles a person’s chances for developing melanoma later in life. Five or more of these types of sunburns increases your melanoma chances by 80 percent.
• People over 65 are more at risk for all skin cancers due to accumulated exposure.
• Exposure to tanning beds increases the risks for all skin cancers.
• People with more than 50 moles have a higher risk for melanoma.
• People who have had melanoma have a nine-fold increased risk for developing another melanoma compared to the general public.
• From 40 to 50 percent of people with fair skin will develop at least one skin cancer in their lives.
• People with blond or red hair are more susceptible to develop all skin cancers.
What are potential signs I should check for?
We believe everyone, no matter the skin type, should check his or her skin periodically. Have a partner check your back. Here is what the different varieties will look like:
- Actinic keratoses
These precancerous growths will be dry, scaly patches on areas that receive lots of sun exposure. Most people see their first actinic keratoses after age 40.
- Basal cell carcinoma
This is the most common type of skin cancer. It will look like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump or pinkish patch of skin.
- Squamous cell carcinoma
The second most common form of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma will look like a red firm bump, scaly patch, or a sore that heals and then re-opens.
This deadliest form of skin cancer will suddenly appear as a new dark spot on the skin. It can also develop in a mole (usually in people with over 50 moles). With melanoma, you can follow the ABCDE warning signs:
- Asymmetry — If one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half, that’s a concern. Normal moles are symmetrical.
- Border — If the border or edges of your mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular, it should be checked.
- Color — Normal moles are a single shade throughout. If your mole has changed color or if it has different shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red, then it should be checked.
- Diameter — If a mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil, it needs to be checked.
- Evolving — If a mole evolves by shrinking, growing larger, changing color, itching or bleeding, or other changes, it should be checked. Melanoma lesions often grow in size or gain height rapidly.
How long does it take to screen for skin cancer?
A skin cancer screening with Dr. Reichel or Dr. Jacobson is simple. The process usually takes just 15-20 minutes. We check your entire body because melanoma can develop in areas that don’t receive sun, so you will be asked to disrobe and wear a gown.
How often should I be screened for skin cancer?
Most adults over the age of 30 should be checked for skin cancer yearly. Anyone who has already had any skin cancer, especially melanoma, should be checked twice yearly.
Does a skin cancer screening hurt?
A screening is painless. If, however, Dr. Reichel or Dr. Jacobson find a suspicious growth, they may opt to biopsy it with a tiny blade. The sample will then be sent to the lab to test for cancer. This is done with local anesthetic and takes just a couple minutes. It is painless thanks to the anesthetic. Precancerous actinic keratoses will be sprayed with liquid nitrogen. This makes the growths dry up and peel off. This freezing can burn just a bit when it is being done, and can have a residual burning sensation on the spots for 20 minutes or so.
What happens after my screening?
If spots were sprayed with liquid nitrogen, they may burn for 20 minutes or so. Those spots will also develop fluid under and around the spot in reaction to the freezing. This won’t hurt, but try not to burst these prematurely. If you had a potential skin cancer scraped for biopsy, a bandage will cover this and needs to be left in place for a couple days.
How can I screen myself at home?
While self-screenings are not a substitute for professional screenings, they are important to find suspicious-looking growths. You can check all of your front side, including the bottoms of your feet, between your toes, and on your palms (melanoma can develop even in spots that don’t receive UV exposure). A partner or friend can check your back and the back of your arms and legs.
Skin cancer screenings typically take only about 20 minutes, and can prevent unnecessary stress and illness. To schedule your screening in one of our conveniently located offices, call 206-859-5777.