An estimated one out of every five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point, and skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the U.S. The disease can affect people of all ages and races. Generally, the sooner skin cancer is detected, the greater the chance of successful treatment. This is particularly true of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. Regular skin cancer screenings may help you identify skin cancer early.

Is skin cancer screening recommended?

Several expert groups publish their own cancer screening recommendations and guidelines. Some groups recommend screenings for everyone, while others advise that only those at high risk for skin cancer need regular screenings.

The U.S. Preventative Task Force says that there is not yet enough evidence to establish the benefits of skin cancer screenings for people who have no symptoms of the disease. However, the Skin Cancer Foundation does recommend skin cancer screenings for adults. The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) also encourages skin cancer screenings and provides a search tool for screening events in communities across the U.S.

Because there is conflicting information about this, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about your individual needs. Your doctor can determine whether you have common risk factors for skin cancer, such as:

  • Work that requires you to spend time outdoors on a regular basis
  • Hobbies and interests that involve spending large amounts of time outdoors
  • History of sunbathing or using tanning beds
  • Light natural skin color
  • Freckles that form due to sun exposure
  • Skin that grows painful, burns or reddens after a short time in the sun
  • Red or blonde hair
  • Presence of many moles on your body
  • Green or blue eyes
  • Having close relatives who previously had skin cancer
  • Being an older adult
  • Personal history of abnormal skin growths or skin cancer

How often should you be screened for skin cancer?

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends an annual skin cancer screening for people at average risk and states that more frequent screenings may be necessary for those at high risk. Your doctor can help you establish the right skin cancer screening schedule based on your individual health profile and history.

What does a skin cancer screening involve?

A skin cancer screening is a physical examination usually performed in a dermatologist’s office. General practitioners, hospitals, clinics and local health departments may also offer skin cancer screening services, and of course you can undergo skin cancer screenings at all Forward offices.

To prepare for your appointment, dress in loose clothing that you can get on and off quickly. If you have long hair, wear it down to allow for easy examination of your scalp. Remove nail polish from your fingernails and toenails before your screening, and avoid putting on makeup so that your doctor can clearly see your facial skin.

Before the screening begins, the doctor normally asks if you have any areas of concern. If it’s your first time seeing them, they will also likely discuss your lifestyle, personal medical history and family medical history.

When it’s time for the screening, you’ll change into a gown. The doctor will then perform a thorough visual examination of your skin from your scalp to the bottoms of your feet. To help them clearly see your skin, they will likely use a magnifying device called a dermatoscope. It’s unlikely you’ll feel any discomfort during a routine skin cancer screening, and the whole exam normally takes just 10 to 30 minutes.

If the doctor locates a growth or spot that is suspicious, they will likely perform a biopsy. This usually involves making a small incision in the skin to remove all or some of the tissue. The collected sample goes to a laboratory where a pathologist examines it, looking for cancerous cells. It usually takes a few days to receive the results of a biopsy.

What is a self check for skin cancer?

A self check for skin cancer is a visual examination of your skin that you perform at home. The purpose of the check is to look for any unusual lesions so you can report them to your doctor and undergo testing, like a biopsy, to rule out cancer. It is unlikely that you’ll be able to tell if a lesion discovered during a self check is cancerous. As a result, you should not attempt to self-diagnose based on the findings of an at-home skin check.

How often should skin checks be done?

The AAD recommends “regular” self checks for skin cancer, stating that they may ultimately lead to the early detection of cancer, but they don’t offer a recommendation for how frequently to do it. Your doctor can give you advice regarding how often you should do a self check for skin cancer.

How do I do a self check for skin cancer?

During a skin cancer self check, look for the following signs of skin cancer:

  • New moles or skin lesions
  • Changes in the color, shape or size of existing moles or lesions
  • Bleeding from moles or skin lesions
  • Moles and lesions that itch

To do a full skin self check, complete the following steps while looking for any moles, bumps or discolored lesions:

  • Take off your clothing. Clip your long hair away from your neck, or put it in a bun. Remove nail polish.
  • Stand facing a full-length mirror. Put your feet shoulder-distance apart, and let your arms hang at your sides.
  • Visually examine your skin carefully, starting at your forehead and going all the way to your toes. Take your time, and look at all areas.
  • Raise your arms in the air, and examine skin that is now visible along the insides of your arms and along your sides.
  • Turn and face your back to the mirror. Stand so that your feet are shoulder-distance apart and your arms are hanging at your sides again.
  • Twist so that you’re peering over your shoulder, and examine your skin.
  • Raise your arms. Examine skin that is now visible along the insides of your arms and along your sides.
  • Use a hand mirror to examine your buttocks, back, and the back of your neck.
  • With your hair down, use the mirror to examine your scalp. Move your hair part with a comb, working from left to right, and look for bumps or discolored lesions.
  • Look closely at your palms, underarms and forearms.
  • Examine the backs of your legs, using the hand mirror as needed.
  • Look at the tops of your feet, your toes, the spaces between your toes, your heels and the soles of your feet while seated.

Take notes on the size and shape of any moles that you find. If you photograph them, you can track changes over time.

Why choose Forward’s cancer screening and prevention program?

Our doctor-led Cancer Prevention program includes blood work, genetic testing and comprehensive screenings for skin cancer as well as the other four leading types of cancer: breast, prostate, colorectal and lung. In addition to a skin check, our screening services include an annual 360-degree skin cancer scan with state-of-the-art technology to detect changes in moles that could indicate melanoma.

As your preventive care provider, we deliver more than just screening services. Using the information gathered, we create a personalized lifestyle change program that allows you to address your individual risk factors for cancer and potentially lower the likelihood of developing skin cancer and other types of cancer in the future. We give you ongoing support and biometric monitoring to track your progress and help you achieve your goals, and you benefit from all of these services simply by paying a flat monthly membership fee with no coinsurance, copay or deductible payments required.

No long waits. No surprise bills. No copays — ever.

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