1. Skin cancers are almost always curable if they are detected early
Compared with stage I melanoma patients treated within 30 days of being biopsied, those treated 30 to 59 days after biopsy have a 5 percent higher risk of dying from the disease, and those treated more than 119 days after biopsy have a 41 percent higher risk. Across all stages of melanoma, the average five-year survival rate in the U.S. is 93 percent. The estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is about 99 percent. The survival rate falls to 66 percent when the disease reaches the lymph nodes and 27 percent when the disease metastasizes to distant organs.
Clearly, early detection is key. Fortunately, this is possible with regular skin self-examinations and scheduled skin examination performed by a dermatologist.
2. Self-examinations can reveal clues for further investigation
Skin self-examinations should be performed monthly. If you find a suspicious spot that is new, is not symmetrical, appears irregular, or has a different color than the rest of the body, you should consult with a dermatologist for a full body exam to investigate further.
The American Academy of Dermatology’s Body Mole Map can help you what to look for when performing the self-examination.
3. Where to pay more attention during self-examinations
All areas of the body such as face, neck, shoulders, chest, stomach, arms, elbows, back, buttocks, and legs should be examined. However, since skin cancer can develop on any area of the body, these six places that are usually ignored, should be examined more carefully:
Pay special attention to any spot that is new, particularly if it appears changing, is bleeding, raised or generally has a suspicious appearance.
4. Be sure to visit an expert physician, ideally a dermatologist, for regular screenings
Make sure to visit your dermatologist for annual health examinations. If you cannot visit one, bring up this topic during your annual health examination with your primary care physician. If they cannot answer a question about a suspicious spot or mole, you can request a referral to a dermatologist. For patients with a history of skin cancer or a high number of moles, it is important to see a dermatologist for regular skin examinations at least once in six months.
5. Dermatologist performed skin cancer screenings are quick and painless
Full body skin exams performed by a dermatologist are both a preventive care and a diagnostic service. The dermatologist will examine your entire skin surface, including areas not usually exposed to sunlight. They may measure the size of moles or freckles. They will look for skin changes and moles or freckles with unusual features such as asymmetry, irregular borders, blotchy color, or increasing size. In addition, they may also examine suspicious spots using a hand-held microscope called a dermatoscope.
This is a good time to ask about any spots you are worried about. The dermatologist can educate you about what to look for, such as any changes in the size, color, borders, or shape of a mole. Typically, a spot that the physician suspects is cancerous will be biopsied and evaluated by an outside pathologist, who confirms (or refutes) the physician's suspicions. If a biopsy is performed, there is no cause for concern. It is simply the dermatologist's technique of investigating further.
Appointments typically take around 15 minutes.