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Skin Cancer Screening

Skin cancer, which occurs when cancer cells form in the tissue of the skin, is the most common cancer in the United States. Approximately 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and there are more cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the United States than all other forms of cancer combined. When detected early, skin cancer is very treatable and has an almost 100% cure rate. Regular skin cancer screenings are important to make sure any areas of concern are caught early before they spread.

Here’s what you need to know about skin cancer screening:

Are there different types of skin cancer? Yes, there are several different types of skin cancer. The most common type is basal cell carcinoma, a slow-growing cancer that accounts for 90% of all skin cancer diagnoses, with more than 4.3 million new cases diagnosed each year. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer, with approximately 1 million new cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Melanoma is the rarest type of skin cancer—just 106,110 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with new melanomas in 2021. Melanoma is also the deadliest type of skin cancer, but, as with basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, if found and treated early, the cure rate is over 95%.

What does skin cancer look like? Skin cancer most commonly appears as a change on the skin, such as a new growth or a sore that doesn't heal. It can appear as a small, smooth, shiny, pale or waxy lump. It also may appear as a firm red lump. Sometimes, the lump bleeds or develops a crust. You could also develop a precancerous lesion called actinic keratosis, which is typically a pink or red flat spot that can thicken and grow larger and become rough or scaly to the touch.

What causes skin cancer? All types of skin cancer are linked to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, either from the sun or indoor tanning beds. A person’s risk for contracting melanoma doubles if they have had five or more sunburns, and people with a history of indoor tanning have a 69% greater chance of developing basal cell carcinoma before age 40.

What does skin cancer screening involve? If you are being screened by a dermatologist in a private setting, skin cancer experts recommend a full-body examination. If you attend a public screening, such as the free skin cancer screening offered by the Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center, a dermatologist will examine only the areas of your body that are commonly exposed to the sun, such as your face, neck, arms, and hands. Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, however, so it’s important to have your entire body checked.

When should I be screened for skin cancer? You should be screened for skin cancer every year.

Can I just screen myself for skin cancer? It’s certainly a good idea to regularly check yourself for signs of skin cancer. Once a month, look at your skin in the mirror, using a hand mirror for hard-to-see areas. Make sure the room is well-lit, so you can see any signs. According to the American Cancer Society, those signs include:

  • Flat, firm, pale or yellow areas that look like a scar
  • Small, pink or red shiny bumps
  • Sores that don’t heal, or heal and come back
  • Raised, rough or scaly red patches that might be itchy
  • Raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a lower area in the center
  • Wart-like growths
  • Redness or new swelling beyond the border of a mole
  • A mole or birthmark that is asymmetrical, has irregular borders, is not a uniform color, or is larger than ¼ inch across.

In addition to a monthly self-exam, it’s important to have your skin screened by a professional, because they have more experience in what to look for and spotting areas of concern.