Every year in the U.S., millions of people are treated for skin cancer, and many more are diagnosed with the disease. In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined. About 20 percent of Americans will develop skin cancer by the time they reach age 70, and while some of those cases will be treated successfully, other cases will wind up being fatal.
Even though skin cancer is so prevalent and can have life-threatening consequences, many men and women still spend hours soaking up the sun's rays or using tanning beds, activities that significantly increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Having regular skin checks is one of the best ways to identify skin cancer in its earliest stages, when treatment is most effective. Since May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, it's a great time to learn more about skin checks and how they can help you keep your skin as healthy as possible.
What are skin checks?
Skin checks are just what they sound like — a head-to-toe check of your skin to look for signs of cancer. During a skin check, your doctor evaluates every area of your skin, including skin in areas that are difficult to see on your own, like your scalp, your back, and yes, even between your buttocks. It might sound embarrassing, but remember: Skin checks are all part of a day’s work for your doctor. Doctors perform these checks on many people throughout the year, and dermatologists perform skin checks on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Dermatologists are completely focused on looking for unusual moles, lesions, or other possible signs of cancer, making note of any that might need to be biopsied. Plus, an experienced dermatologist can perform a skin check in just a few minutes, so any embarrassment you might feel certainly won’t last long. You’ll also wear a gown during your exam, and the gown will be moved aside area by area, so you won’t be completely exposed at any time.
What happens if Dr. Stoll finds an unusual lesion?
If Dr. Stoll finds an unusual spot, like a large, symptomatic mole or lesion, he may take a biopsy — a very tiny sample of tissue — for evaluation under a microscope. Depending on the results of the biopsy, you might need other tests to determine if the lesion is cancerous, or you might have the lesion entirely removed, either with hot or cold cautery or with excision or surgery.
Can’t I just examine myself?
Yes — and no. You can and should check your skin on a regular basis, looking for unusual freckles or moles, or freckles or moles that have changed in size, shape, or color. You should also take note of any other unusual changes in your skin, like oozing, flaking, hard-to-heal sores, or textural changes, since all of these can also occur with some types of cancer. These self-exams are important for identifying issues that need to be evaluated by Dr. Stoll — but they are in no way a substitute for a professional skin exam. Skin cancer can be very difficult to detect on your own. In fact, dermatologists have special training to help them identify symptoms early, including very subtle symptoms that can easily be missed. Plus, even with a mirror, you just can’t thoroughly examine every area of your body. So yes, absolutely perform self-exams on a routine basis, but you’ll still need to have regular skin checks with Dr. Stoll. (Not sure how to do a self-exam? The Skin Cancer Foundation offers a step-by-step guide on their website.)
So how often do I need a professional skin check?
Certainly, you should have your skin examined any time you notice an unusual change. Annual skin checks are recommended for anyone at increased risk for the disease, including people who:
- Have family history of skin cancer
- Have reduced immunity
- Have had skin cancer before
- Have had a lot of unprotected exposure to sun or tanning beds
The best way to know how often you should have a professional skin check is to ask Dr. Stoll. He’ll review your medical history and other factors to determine your unique risk factors, so you can feel confident you’re getting the best care based on your needs. To learn more about skin checks at Stoll Dermatology or to schedule an office visit, book an appointment online today.