Did you know that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it’s estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
However, there is good news: skin cancer is also one of the most preventable and treatable cancers. Seeking shade during the mid-day, wearing protective clothing and applying 30+ SPF sunscreen are the best ways to prevent sun damage and lower your risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer screenings with your dermatologist allow for earlier detection of skin cancers.
Skin cancer screenings
But what is a skin cancer screening – and what time of year should you schedule one? One of our Roper St. Francis dermatology experts weighs in.
“A skin cancer screening is usually a head-to-toe exam,” says Lindsey Bressler, MD, dermatologist at Perry Dermatology. “Your dermatologist will take a close look at your skin, especially sun-exposed areas as well as hard-to-see places like the scalp, between the toes, even your nail beds.”
If you’re wondering when you should schedule a skin cancer screening, Dr. Bressler recommends the following guidelines:
- No personal or family history of skin cancer: There is no official recommendation, but it can be helpful to have a baseline skin exam and discuss your individualized screening recommendations.
- New or changed spot on your skin: Schedule a screening if you notice any new worrisome spots – or existing spots that have changed in color or shape.
- Significant sun damage or a family history of skin cancer: Schedule an annual skin cancer screening with your dermatologist.
- Recent skin cancer: Depending on the type of skin cancer, a dermatologist will want follow-up visits every three to six months for the first year.
A baseline look at your skin is the best way to spot any problems – or keep an eye on a potential issue before it turns into something more dangerous.
There are two categories of skin cancer:
- Melanoma: Melanomas can arise quickly and affect the health of your entire body, making it one of the most dangerous types of skin cancer. Catching melanoma early gives patients the best treatment options and outcomes. Possible signs of melanoma include new moles or unusual or irregular growth to an existing mole.
- Non-melanoma: The most common types of non-melanoma cancer include squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell skin carcinoma. These types of skin cancer have a more direct relationship to sun exposure and are typically curable by surgery or treatment aimed at removing the atypical cells.
“Some types of skin cancer are slower growing,” says Dr. Bressler. “When cancerous spots are caught early, a patient’s treatment options are possibly less invasive.”
Best time of year for a skin cancer screening?
Inquiring minds want to know: is there a good time of year to get a skin cancer screening?
Dr. Bressler says there’s no medically recommended time to get a screening – but it needs to be a time that works for you.
“We recommend you schedule your screening when you can be examined without makeup or nail polish and are comfortable wearing a gown,” says Dr. Bressler. “Timing is also important. If we see a suspicious spot that we’d like to biopsy, it’s best not to be heading out on a beach vacation in the next few days.”
A biopsy removes a small sample of a suspicious spot to determine a diagnosis. This in-office procedure is quick and tolerable for almost all patients. If the biopsy is confirmed to be cancer – or determined to be a growth that needs to be removed – your dermatologist will discuss treatment options with you and help guide you to the best course of action.
At-home sun safety tips
The best thing you can do for your skin is to take care of it proactively. Dr. Bressler’s best at-home skincare tips include:
- Apply sunscreen every two hours if you’re outside.
- Pick a 30+ SPF that you like – if you enjoy the way it feels, you’ll be more likely to wear it every day.
- If possible, stay out of the sun during peak hours – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If not, wear long sleeves and take breaks in the shade.
- Make sure to apply sunscreen to your ears and the back of your neck – the most commonly missed spots.
- A baseball hat doesn’t cover your ears or neck, so opt for a wide-brim hat.
- Check the UV exposure on your phone’s weather app and avoid the highest exposure of the day.
Lastly, make sure to examine your skin once a month at home.
“We’re all so busy, it’s easy to neglect our skin,” says Dr. Bressler. “But take the time once a month to look for any new spots, as well as spots that change in size, shape or color. It can really make a difference.”
Schedule a skin cancer screening with your dermatologist today. If you need a referral to a dermatologist, please call (843) 402-CARE or visit rsfh.com.