Are skin cancer screenings an important preventative service for everyone? Or, is it important just for those at high risk for skin cancer? There are some differences of opinion on that topic. The U.S preventative services task force, an independent panel of clinical experts, does not include skin cancer exam on the list of the most important preventative services for all patients. I concur. Here are some tips to see if you are someone at risk.
- Patients who have had a previous melanoma, basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer should be screened at least once a year. Depending on the level or depth of the melanoma or the number of prior skin cancers, twice yearly screening may be recommended.
- Patients with a history of an atypical mole or precancers ( actinic keratoses) should also be seen at least yearly for a skin exam. Both types of lesions may be precursors to skin cancer.
- Individuals with a family history of melanoma in an immediate family member ie parent or sibling should have at least one screening
- Individuals who have fair skin ( ie skin that burns before tanning) and have had significant sun exposure due to working outdoors, outdoor recreation or have done indoor tanning are recommended to have a skin screening to see if there are any concerns
- Anyone with a changing mole or a lesion that is bleeding or growing
Who doesn’t need a skin screening?
- If you are a senior and have developed rough brown warty growths, chances are these are benign age related growths called seborrheic keratosis. Ask your primary doctor at your next visit if any of the lesions present a concern
- Individuals with dark pigmented skin that never burns are not likely to develop skin cancer. African Americans, Hispanics and Asian patients with darker skin types have a low incidence of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. If your skin, hair and eyes are dark, and you have a number of dark or black moles, it is likely that is your normal pattern. A mole that looks very different that all of the others, especially if it has 2 or more colors, might be a concern.
Where should I go for a skin cancer screening?
- Patients who have an established relationship with a dermatologist and who have one or more of the risk factors above should see their own doctor
- Check with your primary doctor for a referral
- If you don’t have insurance, there are options for free skin cancer screening. May 6 is Melanoma Monday. There will be free screenings around the country at various locations. Check the website of the Academy of Dermatology www.aad.org for a location near you. And, the Skin Cancer Foundation has a mobile skin cancer screening unit that travels the country making stops at shopping malls. Check their website www.skincancer.org for the “Road to Health Skin Tour”. Many local hospitals sponsor health fairs that include skin cancer screening. Call the community relations office of the hospital near you.
It is important to educate yourself about what spots on the skin need further attention. The Skin Cancer Foundation website www.skincancer.orghas some excellent educational tools including pictures of the various skin cancers and instructions on how to do a skin self-exam. Before going for a skin exam, and between skin exams, checking your birthday suit yourself is highly recommended. Note any new, changing , itching or bleeding moles or growths.