Performing the skin cancer screening either with your healthcare practitioner or as a self examination both biannually or annual is an important part of your over all healthcare. When skin cancer is found early for any of the three types of cancer the overall cure rate is around 95%. Thankfully even the most aggressive form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, is found 80% of the time in the early stages. This may be because of the increased vigilance which is encouraged through both the media and health care practitioners.
More than one million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Causes of skin cancer range from smoking to sun and ultraviolet ray exposure. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are the two most common forms but are easily treated if found early. The American Cancer Society currently estimates that approximately 1 in four or five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
Of all the skin cancers which are diagnosed approximately 90% will be either basal skin cancer or squamous cell skin cancer. The risk of melanoma is approximately 1 in 58 men or women and the risk rises after age 50. While malignant melanoma accounts for less than 10% of the overall number it also accounts for 75% of the deaths attributed to skin cancer.
Like other cancers, skin cancer respond best to treatment when it is found early and treatment is able to be initiated before any metastasis. Metastasis is the process of spreading of the cancer throughout the body. Skin cancer will spread either through the lymph system or the vascular system to other organs including the liver and brain.
For this reason screening or self examination for skin cancer is extremely important. This process can help find cancer at an early stage one the abnormal tissue has not had a chance to grow to a large lesion or spread to other areas of the body. Since 1996 the month of May has been a time for educators and healthcare professionals to spotlight skin cancer prevention. The Skin Cancer Foundation promotes early detection by providing free skin exams with the road to healthy skin tour that has been sponsored in the past by AVEENO and Rite Aid.
A skin cancer screening will involve a two to three minute visual inspection of the entire body including the head, hands and feet. When done with a healthcare professional they will also include questions about sun exposure, sun protection and family history. This is often a good time to include education about the necessity for sun protection and the need for self examination throughout the year. Although early identification of skin cancer is the primary goal, identification of non-melanoma skin cancer and precancerous lesions are also important.
There are four basic changes which a healthcare practitioner will screen for with any moles or lesions on the body. The first is asymmetry. When a mole has irregular shaped and is not uniform or is different in texture and color then other moles this is considered a warning sign. The border of a mole which is considered cancerous or precancerous may be irregular and jagged. The color is usually different and may be black or brown or others may be red or blue. The diameter of a normal mole should not exceed 6 mm. Anything larger should be evaluated by a healthcare practitioner and potentially biopsied.
Doing a self-evaluation every three to six months allows the individual to have a better understanding and knowledge of the moles and skin changes on their own body. A mole that suddenly changes in diameter, begins to bleed or crust, appears to have a rash surrounding it or otherwise changes should be evaluated immediately by your healthcare practitioner.
American Academy of Dermatology: Free Cancer Screenings
Skin Cancer Foundation: ROad to Healthy Skin Tour
National Cancer Insitute: What is Screening
American Society for Dermatological Surgery: Find a Free skin Cancer Screening
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Skin Cancer
McKay-Dee Hospital Center: Skin Cancer Screening
University of Chicago Medicine: Skin Cancer Screening