Skin Cancer Screenings 101

How much do you know about skin cancer? In the United States, more than a million people each year are diagnosed with the two most common forms of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. Less common is melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, but all of these cancers are curable if detected early. Does that mean that everyone should see a dermatologist for regular skincare screenings? Not necessarily.

No research has been conducted to determine whether routine screening for melanoma is effective for people without a familial history of skin cancer. Periodic skin examinations by the patient or the primary care physician are typically the way changes to the skin are noticed, and those exams seem to be the key to catching skin cancer at the earliest stages. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma appear as skin changes, and the primary care doctor sends the patient to a dermatologist for a skin examination and biopsy.

Family history raises the risk of melanoma, as does the presence of atypical moles or several common moles. Other risk factors include previous skin cancers, skin that burns easily, freckling, blue eyes, red hair, and a history of blistering sunburns. Screening people with these risk factors doesn’t seem to reduce the number of melanoma deaths.

You should know the signs of skin cancer, and have a doctor check out anything suspicious. Watch for atypical moles, also known as dysplastic nevi, which have irregular borders, vary in color, or are asymmetrical. Learn how to identify the three major types of skin cancer.

  • Basal cell carcinoma: The most common kind of skin cancer is characterized by pearly, translucent growths that may crust, ulcerate, or bleed.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: This looks like basal cell carcinoma but is more aggressive and can go internally.
  • Malignant melanoma: This potentially life-threatening skin cancer can arise from an existing mole, or from normal skin. Look for pigmented lesions, asymmetrical in shape, with irregular, scalloped, or jagged edges. They’re more than one color like black, blue, or brown, and show unusual thickening and dramatic growth.

While regular screenings are not recommended, you should talk to your doctor if you experience:

  • Lesions that change from their original appearance
  • Lesions that appear differently from your other moles
  • Sores that don’t heal within one or two months
  • Lesions that are worrisome to you in any way

At Swinyer-Woseth Dermatology, we’re committed to providing superior, professional skin care in a manner that’s practical and efficient, yet compassionate. With more than 30 years of experience providing dermatological services in Salt Lake City, we provide a wide range of services, from cosmetic skincare to treatment for skin cancer. Our team of board-certified dermatologists and licensed cosmetic service providers, along with our friendly staff, are here to provide you the care you need in a comfortable and professional atmosphere. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us through our website or call (801) 682-4715 today.

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