Why is Skin Cancer Screening Important?

By Jenny L Workman, Boone Health Community Wellness Manager

Skin cancer screenings are the best way to detect melanoma and other skin cancers early, when they are easier to treat. If you’re at increased risk for skin cancer, you may need an annual skin cancer screening exam. Even if you have never seen any suspicious moles or spots on your skin, you should still see a dermatologist.

It is important to become familiar with your skin so you can notice changes, but it’s also a good idea to see a dermatologist for a baseline skin check. Having a physician or trained expert check your skin for subtle changes you may not see is helpful for spotting signs of melanoma and other types of skin cancer early.

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It develops in cells called melanocytes that produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. The exact cause of all melanomas isn’t clear, but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation increases your risk of developing the disease. UV radiation can come from sunlight, tanning lamps, and tanning beds. Genetic factors and skin type can also affect your risks for skin cancer.

Even if you don’t currently have any skin concerns, if you have a family history of melanoma or you use or have used tanning beds, seeing a dermatologist for a baseline skin check can make it easier to look for any changes in the future.

If it’s not checked early, melanoma cells can spread to other areas of your body through the bloodstream and lymphatic system. When it spreads, melanoma can become difficult to treat, but melanoma can be curable if caught early.

When you check your skin, remember the A-B-C-D-Es of skin cancer:

• Asymmetry. Look for moles are markings that are irregularly shaped or where one half looks different from the other.

• Border. Look for moles with uneven, jagged, or scalloped borders.

• Color. If a mole or area of skin changes color or has multiple colors, have it examined by a dermatologist or trained healthcare professional.

• Diameter. If you have a mole larger than one quarter-inch across, have it checked.

• Evolving. If a mole changes in size, shape, or color, or you notice bleeding, itching, or tenderness, have it checked immediately.

A skin check by a dermatologist only takes a few minutes but it’s a critical part of identifying skin cancer early. A dermatologist will also check for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These cancers typically look like pink, red, or scaly spots on your skin that don’t go away on their own. They may also bleed and grow in size. Although it is more common to develop new moles during childhood and early adulthood, older people may develop other pigmented spots, such as seborrheic keratosis, that could be mistaken for moles and cause concern. If you’re concerned about any new spots or changes to your skin, consult a dermatologist. You can also help detect and prevent skin cancer by developing healthy skin habits. Get in the habit of checking your skin once a month, and become diligent about protecting your skin. Stay out of the sun during the middle of the day, when UV light is strongest. When you go outdoors, wear protective clothing, including a hat. Use sunscreen in all seasons and all weather. Your sunscreen’s SPF, or sun protection factor, should be at least 30. Look for broad spectrum sunscreen that protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Apply sunscreen generously and reapply frequently to get the full amount of protection.

For more information on Community Wellness screenings, visit boone.health/community-wellness or call 573-815-3876.