How Often Should I Have a Skin Cancer Screening?

skin cancer screening

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer occurs when skin cells start multiplying. The three types of cells that make up the outer layer of skin, called basal, squamous, and melanocytes, can multiply and lead to cancer. While basal and squamous cell cancers don’t usually spread, the less common melanoma cancer can spread throughout the body if not treated.

What is an Annual Skin Screening?

An annual skin screening is a visual examination performed by your dermatologist to look for signs of skin cancer. Your dermatologist will look at every part of your body, including the scalp, fingernails, toenails, and soles of the feet to look for abnormal moles or growths that could potentially be cancerous.

How Long Does a Skin Cancer Screening Take?

Expect your screening to last at least 10 minutes. The exam will last longer if you have a large number of moles. If you have unusual moles, your dermatologist will take a biopsy to send off for testing.

How Often Should I See a Dermatologist?

It’s best to schedule an initial exam with your dermatologist and then discuss later how often you should return for regular exams. While some dermatologists may recommend a yearly screening, others only advise an annual exam if you have an increased risk of skin cancer. You’re at a higher risk of skin cancer if you meet the following criteria:

  • You have blond or red hair
  • You have light colored eyes
  • You freckle easily
  • You sunburn easily
  • You’ve had sunburns that blister
  • You’ve used tanning beds
  • You have more than 50 moles
  • You’ve undergone an organ transplant
  • You have a family history of skin cancer

If you’ve had squamous or basal cell cancer or melanoma in the past, your dermatologist may want to see you as often as every three months for follow-up screenings in the first year and then twice a year in the future.

How Do You Know if a Spot Is Skin Cancer?

The only way to find out for sure if a mole is cancerous is to have a biopsy. Your dermatologist will numb the area and then scrape off as much of the mole as possible to send off for testing. Signs that a mole should be checked out by a dermatologist include:

  • The mole is asymmetric, meaning it’s shaped differently on each side
  • The mole’s border is irregular with a ragged or blurred edge
  • The mole is not a uniform color, sometimes containing different shades of brown, black, or tan
  • The diameter of the mole is greater than a quarter inch
  • The mole changes appearance
  • The mole itches or bleeds
  • A new mole appears

At What Age Should You Be Screened for Skin Cancer?

Although the American Cancer Society doesn’t have a set age to start skin cancer screenings, it’s best to do regular self-exams to check for skin changes. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a dermatologist to have a suspicious mole tested.

Make an appointment today with the professionals at Florida Academic Dermatology Center in Coral Gables for your annual skin screening.

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