Have you talked to your dermatologist about annual skin exams?

When it comes to skin cancer, early detection is a critical key to successful treatment.

According to the SEER database, 5-year survival rates for localized melanoma is 99% but drops to 66% if the disease spreads to local lymph nodes and 27% if it has spread further. At the early stages, when the cancer cells are only as deep as the epidermis, treatment is typically as simple as excision and continued monitoring. 

To catch skin cancer at its earliest stages, The American Academy of Dermatology recommends annual skin screenings for everyone and more often for those who have increased risk factors for developing melanoma. 

Melanoma Risk Factors

Many skin cancer risk factors are preventable by being conscious of your sun exposure and the regular use of broad-spectrum sunscreen. Some factors that increase the risk of melanoma include:

  • Sunburns
  • Tanning outdoors or in tanning beds
  • Having fair skin
  • Exposure to UVA and UVB rays
  • Genetics
  • Patients who have undergone an organ transplant
  • Having atypical moles
  • Having red hair

If one or more of those factors apply to you, you must check in regularly with a licensed dermatologist who can help you monitor your skin health. 

Preparing for a Skin Screening

During your exam, your dermatologist will check your skin from the top of your scalp down to your toes. They will check for unusual spots, like moles or birthmarks, that may require biopsy and further examination. 

To prepare for your exam:

  1. Perform self-checks at home and show the doctor any spots that have changed over time. 
  2. Remove all nail polish on the fingers and toes, as melanoma can form in the nail beds.
  3. Remove all makeup. 
  4. Wear your hair loose so that the doctor can examine your scalp.

Performing Self-Checks

Between appointments, you should also do a self-examination each month. 

  1. Examine your face, especially the nose, lips, mouth, and ears.
  2. Use a blow dryer and mirror to section off your hair to check your scalp.
  3. Check your hands, including the back, palms, between the fingers, and under your nails. 
  4. Scan all sides of your upper, lower, and underarms. 
  5. Examine your neck, chest, and stomach. Check under each breast. 
  6. Stand in front of a full-length mirror, then use a hand mirror to look at the back of your neck, shoulders, and upper back.
  7. In the same position, look at your lower back, buttocks, and backs of your legs. 
  8. While seated, prop each leg up one at a time and check all sides—scan over your ankles, feet, and between the toes. 

During your check, keep an eye out for growths that have gotten bigger, moles that have changed in size, thickness, color, or texture, and spots that don’t heal within three weeks. 

If you notice changes or concerning spots, follow up with your dermatologist right away. 

To answer all of your questions about skin cancer, self-checks, or annual skin screenings, we encourage you to get in touch with one of our providers at Advanced Dermatology & Cosmetic Institute. Together, we can ensure that your skin concerns are quickly addressed and help you maintain good skin habits for life.