The Earlier the Better: Screening for Skin Cancer

It’s a well-known fact that early diagnosis is the key to successfully treating cancer.  With skin cancer on the rise – nearly 1 in 5 Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime – it’s critically important to make regular skin cancer screening part of your overall approach to staying well.

Dermatologists preach these facts because they know that discovering skin cancer early and removing it quickly changes the trajectory of the disease. Skin cancer becomes highly curable.

But the whole stopping-before-it-starts requires something from you, too. Something called vigilance. In real life vigilance looks like:

Performing regular self-exams. They’re a powerful tool that can alert you to changes in your skin.

Taking note of changes in moles. Let the ABCDEs be your guide; watch for moles that are asymmetric, develop an irregular border, change color, change diameter or are simply evolving.

Watching for other warning signs. Skin cancer has other warning signs, too; things like itching, crusting, pain and bleeding.

Making appointments for professional skin exams. Midwest Dermatology recommends full body skin exams for all patients every year, and encourages more frequent exams for patients with a history of skin cancer.

Melanoma: A Matter of Life or Death

It’s not overly dramatic to say that skin cancer screenings can be a matter of life or death.

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, and when left untreated can lead to death. That’s why early detection is key.

Of the 60,000+ people in the United States diagnosed with melanoma each year, 9,000 will die. That double digit death rate – 15% – only changes when you identify melanoma early, before it becomes life threatening. Your vigilance can save your life, and the lives of your family.

Spotting melanoma early isn’t always easy. Sometimes, it’s located in hard-to-see areas, like on the back side of the body. So it’s important to get some help. A full body skin exam at Midwest Dermatology allows a board-certified skin care expert to search for skin cancer from the top of your head to between your toes, where melanomas sometimes hide.

More, or Less, Susceptible to Skin Cancer

The obvious answer is that everyone should have annual skin cancer exams. But it’s also true that some people are more susceptible to skin cancer than others. Those at higher risk have:

  • A close relative has had melanoma
  • A history of precancerous lesions or skin cancer
  • A large number of moles or one or more atypical moles
  • Have used tanning beds in the past
  • Tend to burn when in the sun
  • Have had regular sun exposure throughout life
  • Are an organ transplant recipient

If you answered “yes” to any of these statements, annual exams are absolutely recommended. This gives your dermatologist the opportunity to track changes to existing moles and to look for new areas of concern.

To remember your appointment, schedule it near your birthday, the first of the year, or around another memorable, annual event.

5 Prep Steps for Your Annual Skin Exam

You can get the most value out of your annual appointment if you do these five things before you go:

Do your own self-check first. In front of a mirror, look for any spots that have recently changed in shape or size, are irregular or asymmetrically shaped, are bleeding, seem not to heal, or are larger than a pencil eraser. To make this easier to share with your doctor, complete this MoleWatch map and bring it with you.

Prepare questions. Your annual exam is a good opportunity to ask your dermatologist about self-checks, anything you’re concerned about, or how to cosmetically treat non-cancerous lesions.

Remove nail and toe polish. Skin cancer can develop on your nail beds. Going without polish lets your doctor examine your hands and feet.

Let your hair down. Skin cancers often develop on the scalp. Wearing a loose hair style makes it easier for your doctor to examine your head.

 Skip the makeup. Most non-melanoma skin cancers grow on areas with high sun exposure, especially the face. Your Midwest Dermatology physician will look closely at the skin on your face. If you’re wearing make-up, it will need to be removed.

In addition, remove jewelry, adhesive bandages and anything else that might cover your skin.

What to Expect During a Skin Cancer Screening

A skin cancer screening is a full body skin exam. Your doctor will examine the top of your head, all the way down to the bottom of your feet, for any moles, growths or spots that look suspicious. Here’s what to expect.

  • Does it take long?If you have no history of skin cancer or irregular moles, the it should be pretty quick, taking less than 15 minutes. If you have a personal history of cancer or several moles, expect it to take slightly longer.
  • Do I Get Undressed? You’ll be asked to remove all of your clothes and put on a gown. It’s important your doctor sees all areas of your skin, including your back, buttocks and even between your toes.
  • What Kind of Documentation Happens? Your doctor might document some spots by taking notes or using photographs, to better detect and track change at your next appointment.

If your dermatologist finds a spot that appears it could be precancerous, a biopsy will be performed. This procedure is relatively quick, and can take place in office at your screening appointment.

The biopsied lesion will be sent to pathology, where it will be processed into a slide.  Your doctor may read this slide or it may be sent to an outside lab for interpretation.  This results in a diagnosis that tells us if your lesion is benign, pre-cancerous or skin cancer.

If the biopsied lesion turns out to be cancerous, your doctor will inform you of your treatment options. Skin cancer that’s detected early is relatively easy to treat, which is the primary benefit of annual skin cancer exams. Proven treatment options, including Mohs Surgery which has a cure rate approaching 99%, will be presented to you Then, we’ll schedule a time for you to come to the office to receive the treatment.

It’s important to note that most insurance carriers will cover annual skin cancer checks, paying all or part of the total cost. Of course, this depends on your policy specifications for co-pay and deductible. Currently, skin cancer screenings are not covered under “preventive medicine” in your health care plan as defined by the Affordable Care Act.

Skin Cancer Screenings Start With You

The most important step is what you do next. If you don’t already have a skin cancer screening scheduled, call Midwest Dermatology today get an appointment on the calendar. You can schedule your exam online at or call us at 402-933-0800 (we changed our phone number recently!).

It feels good to take control of your health and you’ll be glad your skin is healthy and well!

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