Skin Cancer Screenings: What to Expect and How They Can Save Your Life

Doctor examining a patient's elbow Skin Cancer Screenings: What to Expect and How They Can Save Your Life

Skin cancer is an all too common health issue in America, but not everyone knows what to look for. Seeing a dermatologist for yearly skin cancer screenings is a proactive way to take your health into your own hands.

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the rapid overproduction of skin cells. Cancers of any kind are characterized, though not explained by, a sudden increase in cellular production of some kind. While the cause and distinct triggers for cancer are not understood, skin cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer. It’s often the result of cumulative sun damage and is more likely to occur in individuals over the age of 50, as their skin has been damaged by years of ultraviolet light. Regardless of its type, skin cancer can be deadly. While some types, like melanoma, are faster acting, even slower-moving skin cancers can spread to vital internal organs if not detected. Skin cancer has a few different forms, but the most well-known are squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, as well as melanoma.

What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?

Skin cancer is most often first noticed visibly, either by an individual or their health care provider. While different types of skin cancer appear differently, a trained dermatologist or a person with the knowledge of what to look for can usually spot it. Melanoma, the fast-acting form of skin cancer, looks a lot like a mole but has characteristics unlike a normal mole. It might be evolving, that is changing shape, color or size. Melanoma has irregular borders, so it’s less likely rounded and symmetrical like a normal mole. Other forms of cancer, including squamous and basal cell carcinoma, can first appear as actinic keratosis. Actinic keratosis is a red and inflamed bump or raised area of skin that forms on sun-damaged skin. AKs are often scaly or crusty, and they are considered precancerous.

What to Expect

At age 50, you should begin getting yearly skin cancer screenings from your dermatologist. Even if you’re armed with the knowledge of what to look for, you can miss a number of areas of your body or ignore something a trained eye could have caught. Skin cancer screenings are a fairly comprehensive process, so you will need to wear a hospital gown for ease of examination. Your dermatologist will ask questions about your medical history and gauge how much sun exposure you’ve had. They will also explain what they are looking for and encourage you to use that knowledge in performing self-exams. Because skin cancer can move quickly and develop at any time, performing self-screenings for skin cancer is very important.

How They Can Save Your Life

Skin cancer is highly treatable when detected early, but those odds dwindle when it’s given time to spread. Some people may dismiss skin cancer screenings as invasive or embarrassing, and while it can be a personal thing to do, it’s also very necessary. Your dermatologist has only your health in mind as they perform their screenings, and with your cooperation, they might find something so early that treatment is quick and easy. In fact, treating skin cancer is often a non-invasive, or at worst minimally invasive procedure these days. If you’ve been ignoring a mole or not keeping track, that’s okay. Just get examined now. An average of two people die of skin cancer every hour. This alarming statistic can be avoided with early intervention by a trained dermatologist. Screenings don’t take long, but they are the easiest way to prevent skin cancer, regardless of your age or history of sun damage.

If you’re over 50 or have noticed the signs of skin cancer, don’t hesitate to get a skin cancer screening scheduled. The experts at Northeast Dermatology Associates are available for consultations, so please reach out.

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