According to American Cancer Society, about 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed in the US each year, affecting about 3.3 million Americans. About 80% of these are basal cell cancers. Though death from either is uncommon, about 2,000 people die from these cancers each year.
As a result, it’s important to schedule a routine skin check with a qualified licensed medical provider. How often should you schedule a skin check exam?
Read on to find out.
When to Schedule a Check
For the purpose of early detection and treatment, it’s recommended that you visit a licensed skin care professional at least once a year. However, you should visit more often if you’re at a higher risk of skin cancer. Risk factors include:
- A light natural skin color
- Older age
- A family history of skin cancer
- Blond or red hair
- Blue or green eyes
- Skin that freckles or burns easily
- A large number of moles
If you’re at high risk, you might need to schedule appointments with a dermatologist every three to six months.
Consider scheduling your annual skin check at the same time each year (such as around your birthday). Without early detection, problems like melanoma can spread to other parts of the body before becoming fatal.
You should schedule an immediate appointment if you notice:
- A new, atypical mole or brown spot
- A change to an existing mole
- Skin-colored, red, or dark bumps that won’t heal (possibly basal cell carcinoma)
- Your hair is shedding more than usual
- Deep or painful dimples (cystic acne)
- Random rashes (allergic reaction, eczema, contact dermatitis, or infection)
- Red skin all the time (rosacea)
Remember, scheduling an appointment could help you begin treatment before any issues become fatal.
How to Prepare
A screening can help detect skin cancer while it’s still small and confined to your skin. Early detection also increases the likelihood of a cure. Most skin cancers are highly treatable when detected early.
To make the most of your skin cancer screening appointment, consider making the proper preparations beforehand. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for your upcoming exam.
Perform a Self-Exam
First, perform a self-exam at home. Completing your own exam will allow you to arrive at the appointment with notes. For example, you can discuss any new, unusual, or changing spots you noticed with your licensed dermatology professional.
To watch for warning signs of melanoma in moles, use the ABCDE rule:
- Asymmetrical (a misshapen mole)
- Borders that appear uneven
- Colors (black, tan, or brown inside a mole)
- Diameter over 6mm
- Evolving in shape, elevation, size, or color
If these changes sound familiar, schedule an appointment right away.
Consider taking photos of any spots you’re concerned about. Having photos on hand will help you recognize if changes have occurred over time. You can show your photos at your skin check appointments as well.
Remove Nail Polish
Make sure to remove nail polish from your fingers and toes before your appointment as well. Cleaning away nail polish will ensure a thorough exam of your nails, nail beds, and fingers.
Skin cancer can form under your nails, which can be difficult to detect if you’re wearing polish.
Plan to remove any makeup you’re wearing on the day of your appointment. Your dermatologist will examine the skin around your eyes during your screening.
Wear Hair Loosely
Make sure to wear your hair loosely on the day of your appointment. Remove any hair clips, ponytails, or buns.
Wearing your hair loosely will allow your provider to take a thorough look at your scalp. Skin cancer can form on your scalp as well.
Before the appointment, consider drafting a list of questions you want to ask. It’s normal to forget questions you intended to ask during the actual appointment. Preparing your questions will ensure you make the most of your time.
Consider questions about unfamiliar terms, pointers for at-home exams, and risk factors.
You can also discuss prevention tips.
One of the best ways to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Try to cover your skin with sunglasses, a hat, clothing, and broad-spectrum sunscreen. Choose sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
You should also avoid using indoor tanning beds or outdoor sunbathing.
What to Expect
Most skin check exams take about 10 minutes if you haven’t had an atypical mole or skin cancer in the past.
Before seeing your medical professional, you’ll need to remove your clothes and put on a medical exam gown. Unless you have a spot on your genitalia that concerns you, you won’t need to remove your underwear.
During the skin check exam, your medical professional will thoroughly check your skin from head to toe. They’ll pay extra attention to any hard-to-see areas. These can include:
- Between your toes
- Your back and buttocks
- Behind your ears
- Your scalp
During their examination, they might use a small, handheld magnifying device. Their dermatoscope will help them visualize the outer surface of your skin and the layers beneath it.
If your provider notices any suspicious spots, they might need to perform a biopsy.
A biopsy involves removing part or all of the lesion. Don’t worry; the process only takes a minute and you’ll barely feel it.
Then, your provider will send the lesion for analysis in a lab. The final report will determine if the spot is skin cancer or not.
If it is skin cancer, your medical professional will contact you to explain your treatment options.
Schedule a Skin Check Today
To recap, how often should you schedule a skin check with a Dermatologist or Dermatology Nurse Practitioner? If you’re not at risk of skin cancer, once a year. Otherwise, about every three to six months.
If you experience any problems or notice changes, schedule a skin cancer screening right away.
Contact us today to schedule your next appointment.